Cold rain, snow, slush and mud…they’re all part of winter for a horse. And winter is here. (Even in the sunbelt, horse’s suffer some of winter’s wrath.) Horses on their own take pretty good care of themselves even in a snow storm, but when they are “protected” by loving owners, the problems of “winter” neglect occur.
If kept in a small pen or pasture, a lot of horses are going to need some help from their loving owners. Without some attention, thousands of horses will suffer mud fever, cracked heels, rain scald or thrush this winter.
Mud fever is a condition that results from the horse standing in constant dampness for prolonged periods, such as being fetlock deep in mud for a week or two. Now I know that would never happen, so consider this, mud fever can occur when a horse stands in a stall of damp shavings.
The moisture on the lower legs weakens the skin, which is irritated by the mud and dirt. Eventually the skin cracks and is attacked by bacterial or fungal infections. Mud fever can even occur on the upper legs and belly if the horse must lie in the mud.
Cracked heels is a similar problem normally seen at the groove at the back of the foot between the bulbs of the heels. Infections here exude serum and pus commonly called, “grease.”
Rain scald is most often seen on the rump and back. It is an infection similar to mud fever caused by constant dampness and then chapping of the skin.
Thrush attacks the frog and sole of the foot and is also associated with constant dampness, plus mud or dirt.
All of these conditions can be extremely painful, can result in lameness and are preventable with a little effort.
Don’t shave the hair from the legs of any horse that will be standing in a small, exposed corral or pasture. The hair on the legs is a good protection.
If the horse is going to be “out in the elements” this winter, some type of overhead protection is needed. The shelter need not be fancy, but it must give the horse the opportunity to remain dry for periods of time.
Dry footing is a must. The horse can run around in the mud most of the time, but he needs a spot of high ground so his legs and feet can dry out from time to time. The area need not be big, but it must be dry!
To protect the legs from mud fever and cracked heels, the horse’s legs should be washed clean, then dried and finally coated with Vaseline, lard or better still, a zinc and castor oil ointment. Any of these grease applications should be cleaned off and reapplied every few days.
The hooves can be protected to a great degree by the application of a hoof dressing; those that contain lanolin are especially effective.
Finally, the horse that is going to be “out” needs a good balanced diet with an oily supplement, such as boiled linseed or cod liver oil, and plenty of roughage….forage, not grains, keep the horse warm.
And if you are going to put “waterproof” blankets on a horse, be sure they are check frequently to assure no water in getting under the blanket. Wet blankets are much worse than “no” blanket.
If any of these winter ailments should appear, the horse must be housed in a dry, clean stall immediately. The affect areas should be cleansed with lukewarm water and a mild antiseptic, then dried and kept dry.
In the winter time…when everything is wet, dry is good.
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