First and second degree burns are comparatively superficial, and only damage the top layers of skin. They are often likened to a bad sunburn. If they cover a relatively small area, and have occurred in areas where anatomical function or high range motion is not an issue (i.e. not on the head, ears, around the eyes, or on the lower limbs), you may be able to treat the burn yourself.
Nevertheless, you should always initially consult your vet, to ensure that they agree this is an injury that can be managed without veterinary involvement.
If possible, gently hose down any horse that has sustained a thermal or chemical burn. In a fire, small embers may not be visible, and may continue to burn through skin. Likewise, chemical burns may persist until the chemical is removed from the tissues. After hosing the area well, allow it to air dry or blot it gently with a clean towel.
Apply ice packs to the injured area at short intervals (a few minutes every 15 minutes) for one hour. This helps to reduce pain and inflammation. Blot dry again and if possible, apply a light and loose gauze bandage that allows for airflow to reach the wound bed. Follow-up entails regular (minimum once a day) examination, gentle cleaning and rebandaging.
Keep your horse in shade during recovery. If this is not possible, apply a fly mask, light fly sheet or bandage to protect the area from sunlight.
Tips for safety & Success
Burns can be very painful for horses. If your efforts are met with great resistance, have your vet provide the initial treatment and evaluate the situation. You may be able to provide follow-up treatments once the healing process has started and the pain has lessened.
Any burns that extend beyond the superficial layers of skin into the subcutaneous tissues or muscles are more severe (third or fourth degree) and should be seen by a vet. Likewise, superficial burns that cover a large surface area also require veterinary assessment because they can cause other health problems.
After initially hosing off a burned area, do not manually remove or disturb any tissues or blisters. With simple burns, your role is to simply support the natural healing process. In later treatments you may begin to remove the dead (necrotic) tissues.
Do not apply any topical medications (especially oil-based medications) without consulting your vet. Since vets differ in their recommendations, talk to your vet about how often to clean the area, and whether to use a topical cleanser such as very dilute chlorhexidine solution, a topical antibiotic such as silver sulfadiazine, and/or aloe vera gel. As the healing progresses, the injured area may become itchy and you will need to ensure that your horse does not bite, nip or scratch the area.
There are a variety of home remedies recommended to treat sunburn, including a variety of creams, brewed teas, and apple cider vinegar. Be careful of using these remedies unless you have direct experience with them. If you use any topical without veterinary supervision, apply it first to a small area to test for a reaction before you apply it to affected areas.