Minimise the time horses spend standing in muddy areas or in wet paddocks. Winter is the peak season for foot abscesses and ailments such as thrush and pastern dermatitis (mud fever, greasy heel). Standing in wet, muddy environments causes the feet to soften and the white line to swell, allowing bacteria to penetrate the foot. Once the bacteria are inside the hoof wall, they form an abscess (a walled-off infection) that is very painful and causes an obvious lameness to the horse. Most of these will work their way up the inside of the hoof wall and burst through the coronet band, unless a farrier or veterinarian can intervene earlier in the process and direct them to drain through the sole.
Once the abscess has burst or opened and drained, the lameness resolves, however, there is the potential for the infection to spread to underlying hoof structures causing serious damage and, on occasion, life threatening conditions. If we can avoid this scenario, it is better for everyone, especially the horse.
Pastern dermatitis is not dissimilar in that the wet muddy conditions cause the skin at the back of the pastern to soften and crack, allowing both bacterial and/or fungal element to gain entry and set up a nasty exudative (weeping) dermatitis. Once this is established, it can be very difficult to treat as the exudate from the affected skin causes more inflammation and damage to the surrounding skin, which further perpetuates the condition.
By doing small things like feeding the horse away from the gateways or areas where they tend to congregate, the deeper areas of mud can be minimised if not avoided. If possible, feed the horses on the higher elevations in the paddock, or in shelters, giving them the best opportunity to avoid standing in very wet areas.
Mycotic dermatitis, also known as rain scald, is a skin disease more commonly seen in wet weather. When the skin is wet for extended periods, a bacterium called Dermatophilus congolensis can invade the skin and set up an infection that results in multiple crust lesions being formed. These usually occur along the back and rump areas of the horse, causing large areas of the hair to be matted and easily removed, leaving reddened areas of skin and pus exposed. It can occur in horses that are not rugged, but it is also important to note that it can also occur when rugs are put onto wet horses, hence it is another reason to check under the horse’s rug periodically over winter.
Lice are parasites that feed from the horse, causing the horse to itch, have scaley skin and lose patches of hair. They are more commonly seen in winter due to the lower temperatures, longer hair coats and close contact between animals. Horses are more susceptible to lice infections if they are ill, losing weight or under increased stress, so doing those extra things to minimise the negative effects of the cold can help avoid heavy lice burdens.
Heading into winter is a good time to remember that maximising good husbandry practices is the best way to have our horses in the best shape to cope with the months to follow. So, check your horse’s records and make sure that worming, dental maintenance, hoof trimming and vaccinations are all up to date, because the healthier they are going into the colder months, the better they will come through it. EQ
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ THE FOLLOWING BY DR MAXINE BRAIN:
The Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram – Equestrian Life, May 2021
The Benefits of Genetic Testing – Equestrian Life, April 2021
Heavy Metal Toxicities – Equestrian Life, March 2021
Euthanasia, the Toughest Decision – Equestrian Life, February 2021
How to Beat Heat Stress – Equestrian Life, January 2021
Medicinal Cannabis for Horses – Equestrian Life, December 2020
Foal Diarrhoea Part 2: Infectious Diarrhoea – Equestrian Life, November 2020
Foal Diarrhoea (Don’t Panic!) – Equestrian Life, October 2020
Urticaria Calls For Detective Work – Equestrian Life, September 2020
Winter’s Scourge, The Foot Abscess – Equestrian Life, August 2020
Core Strengthening & Balance Exercises – Equestrian Life, July 2020
The Principles of Rehabilitation – Equestrian Life, June 2020
When is Old, Too Old? – Equestrian Life, May 2020