Is your farm muddy?
Summer mud. Winter mud. Spring mud. Fall mud. No matter what the season, mud is a part of a horseman’s life. Whether you live in a part of the country with a rainy season that makes mud a daily nuisance, or you just don’t have the best drainage in the world, mud happens.
And mud is more than just a tedious mess that ends up all over your boots. Mud can cause a host of health problems, from soft feet to skin infections. So what should horse owners be aware of when the farm is muddy?
The same nasty bacteria that causes “rain rot” in a horse’s coat can also set up housekeeping on a horse’s pasterns, fetlocks, and lower leg. When scabby, crusty infections are found on the leg, the old horsemen’s terms that come to mind are “greasy heel” or “scratches.” But a veterinarian will tell you it’s all the same thing: dermatophilosis, an infection caused by a bacteria which can enter skin rubbed raw by the abrasive particles in mud.
This bacteria is just the pioneer; once it has invaded the skin, other bacteria and fungi make themselves at home. Inflamed by the bacteria, the skin begins to weep oils in reaction, and then all it takes is more mud, caked on top, to trap the oil and form scabs. Seemingly overnight, those scabs can become a warm, painful mess on your horse’s legs and fetlocks.
Once you’ve noticed a skin infection has set in, there are a multitude of treatments available. Ask around and horsemen will advocate everything from washing with Betadine, to topical ointments, to just rubbing in mineral oil to coax off the scabs and open the skin up to fresh air again. The most important thing is to get the skin dry.
And that’s the only way to prevent these bacterial infections from coming back, or starting in the first place: you must keep a horse’s legs as clean as possible. If it’s impossible to keep the horse out of the mud, getting the legs clean and dry once the horse comes back into the barn is important. A good grooming that knocks off the mud and a towel-dry after baths will keep the skin strong and the bacteria out.
Hooves dislike mud, too. They might even dislike it more than skin does. Even if a horse-owner has never dealt with scratches or rain rot, they’ve probably dealt with thrush – that smelly condition where the frog is literally being rotted out by a bacterial infection. And thrush just loves a wet hoof packed with mud and manure.
There are plenty of over-the-counter remedies once your horse has thrush. But the best way to prevent it? You guessed it – keep that hoof as dry and clean as possible. Pick out hooves before you turn out, as well as after. If you turn your horse out in the morning after a night in the stall, don’t forget that his hooves are going to be full of manure, and a muddy path or field is only going to pack it in more tightly, and keep it damp, creating a bacterial playground.
There are also hoof disinfectants on the market that can be sprayed into a hoof to kill bacteria that might be thinking of setting up residence. Just don’t use something that is going to seal the hoof. A hoof dressing that promises to never let anything in will also never let anything out. An impermeable barrier between whatever bacteria is already in your horse’s hoof and the outside world is the last thing you want.
Footing and bedding
Drainage and footing should be evaluated, whenever possible, so that you can reduce the amount of mud you and your horse are dealing with on a regular basis. There might be a simple solution, such as covering the area around a pasture gate with gravel, that will reduce the daily struggle with mud.
Inside the barn, be certain that stalls are always dry and stripped of wet bedding daily. Bedding can also contribute to skin and hoof infections. Straw, in particular, is not as absorbent as wood shavings. Horses bedded on straw should have their legs dried carefully with a towel before put into their stalls, or moisture could be trapped on their skin, adding to potential inflammation.
Mud is part of a horseman’s life. And that means keeping a horse’s legs and hooves clean and dry every day is part of life, too.