A Sticky Situation: Getting Tar Off Your Horse

Q:I painted some boards with tar rather than black paint. Of course my bay and white Pinto mare got some in her mane and on the white part of her neck. She has very sensitive skin. How can I safely remove the tar from her hair coat and skin? What should I worry about in terms of the aftermath and how should I treat it?

Marie Murphy, Aiken, S.C.

A: In doing research on this topic I found a number of suggestions ranging from organic to downright scary treatments for the horse in question. With any horse, the protection of the underlying skin would be the biggest concern I would have.

The old remedies were to use turpentine, gasoline, mineral spirits, or kerosene and a rag, and then hose the area with soap and water. While I believe this to be effective, I would have to question the effect on the underlying skin. Especially for a horse with known sensitization, I suspect any of these treatments would produce a skin reaction of epic proportion.

The more ingenious solutions for tar removal involved the use of kitchen pantry supplies. Among the most unique were olive oil, peanut butter, or plain butter applied with either a cloth or toothbrush; mayonnaise applied directly on the area; or Wesson oil with no stipulation as to whether the canola, corn, vegetable, or best blend were used. All of these remedies were reportedly easy on the skin and provided excellent removal.

Others suggested a trip to the shop was in order. A number of sites recommended a composite of Windex, dishwashing liquid, and all-purpose cleaner equally mixed together; spraying WD-40 on the tar and letting it stand for 10 seconds is reported to work in two minutes or less. A product called Goo Gone allegedly works "amazingly" well.

The medical treatments advocated the use of Avon Skin So Soft, with reports that its use was followed by excellent removal of tar, greases, and oils out of hair. Apply it after working it into your hands and follow by washing with regular soap. Another medical product called 50/50 cream (half white soft paraffin and half liquid paraffin used for eczema patients) supposedly works great. Directions for use were to cover the affected areas with the cream and leave in place for two hours. The tar should then rub off. Some areas required longer, more liberal application, but all reports described this as an easy, painless, and effective method.

I have been fortunate to not have this predicament with the horses I own, so I have not had to use any of the above remedies. However, the use of Skin So Soft seems to be a safe place to start.

About the Author

Dennis D. French, DVM, Dipl. ABVP

Dennis D. French, DVM, Dipl. ABVP,is a professor in Louisiana State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

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