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Winter Horse Care - Healthy Hooves and Skin

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Sunday, 02 July 2017

Winter Horse Care - Healthy Hooves and Skin

Keeping horses comfortable and free of winter ailments is an achievable goal when you incorporate some preventative strategies into your daily management routines.

Many potentially troublesome horse health issues can be mitigated or completely averted by planning ahead, thorough regular grooming and careful observation.  You should ensure that your horse is “winter ready” by checking that vaccinations and worming programs are up to date. 

Be sure to feed your horse well, to enable the immune system to do its job.  Be alert and on the lookout for the early signs of seasonal skin conditions such as Mud Fever and Greasy Heel, which usually start as a rather innocent looking patch of scaly skin!

Neglected horses ... are compromised horses!  Diligent planning makes for good equine management, and this follows on to become good financial management!   Ailments that necessitate veterinary intervention will impact your horse care budget, and a vet will end up with the cash reserves that you have set aside for a new saddle or competition outfit!

Here are some easy and effective modifications to your horse care routine that will make winter care easy: 

Hoof care for winter – Horses’ hooves are an amazing structure that provides the foundation of their ability to move, jump, run and rest.  All horse people have heard the saying … “NO HOOF, NO HORSE,” and this reflects the importance of an effective hoof care routine! 

Weather conditions affect the strength, functionality and soundness of hooves.    Expansion and contraction of the hoof wall absorbs concussion and facilitates the efficient return the spent blood back through the venal circulatory system to the heart and lungs for the re-oxygenation vital for good health, muscle function, stamina, and strength. 

From a management perspective, hoof maintenance requirements for the summer and winter months are very similar!  In the summer, horses’ hooves become dry and brittle, limiting the cushioning effect that protects the joints from jarring and damage.  In winter, the keratinous structure of the hoof becomes waterlogged and weak, increasing the risk of breakage and moisture related disorders such as abscesses, corns, thrush and seedy toe. 

Remember, waterlogged, soft hooves are weak, and if they get too long, they will break easily, and a large segment of the hoof can come away.  In a worse case scenario, the sensitive laminae is exposed, subjecting the horse to a risk of infection.  In this instance, the horse will be in pain and lame until the hoof has had time to grow back (just like a human who has lost a chunk of a fingernail, which has broken off, back to the blood supply). 

Long toes can break easily, so regular hoof care in the form of trimming or shoeing is essential!  Incorrect angles or uneven weight-bearing surfaces will rob the horse of correct follow though of the limbs and the placement of the hoof to the ground.   Unbalanced hooves place a huge strain on the horse's joints and ligaments, with a consequential risk to soundness and longevity.

Daily cleaning with a hoof pick will ensure that no foreign matter is caught in the cleft of the frog to cause interference or the onset of infection.  Daily dressing of the hooves with a specially blended hoof oil or grease, will lubricate in the summer months and help the hooves to repel moisture and retain their strength and resilience over winter.  Some hoof dressings have an anti-bacterial agent added to the formula and this helps to reduce the onset of infection.

Carl O’Dwyer is an internationally acclaimed farrier, and he says. “Basic hoof care is pretty simple really!  First of all, you must have a hoof to work with; it is important to keep the foot growing and limit the risk of breakage.  Then, you need a good farrier who understands how to correctly trim and balance the foot to distribute the horse's weight evenly, allowing full freedom of movement and correct placement of the feet to the ground.  It is the farrier's eye for angles and the balanced trimming of all four feet that will help the horse move with confidence and ease, avoiding the strains and injury that accelerate joint and soft tissue damage.  Horses cost a lot to breed, raise and train, so looking after their feet is just common sense!”  

“We must always remember that without a hoof, the farrier is limited in the positive outcomes of his work!  Mustad Hoof Care is proud to have developed an effective and economical hoof growth supplement.  I thoroughly recommend Right Balance, as it does just that!” 

Top Tip … Take care of your horse's feet from the inside as well as the outside - good nutrition rich in minerals and trace elements is essential for hoof growth and quality.

It is very important to engage a competent farrier and book a time well in advance, for 6 weekly trims or the re-shoeing of your horse/s.  It is false economy to stretch the time out to when the shoes fall off or the unshod foot breaks away.

With hoof care, a little prevention is worth a lot of cure! So be sure to prevent the hooves becoming waterlogged, weakened or brittle.  GO TO:


Skin conditions - moisture.  In many circumstances, rain, moisture and the lack of drying conditions will provide an ideal conduit for problems that can affect people and their property.  Dampness and dark areas foster the growth of mould, mildew, and fungus, which form around our homes and workplaces, posing a serious risk to health and safety.

These risks are very relevant considerations when it comes to horse care.  The management of excessive moisture and clearing drains to effectively divert water flow is an important OH&S consideration.  It is important to keep rooves; gutters and wet areas well maintained to prevent leaks and seepage.  Equipment, rugs, tack and clothing, must always be completely dry before they are stored away.   Stables should have access to fresh air for good ventilation … this means a healthy environment for people and horses!

When a horse’s skin remains moist, the animal is susceptible to fungal infections and dermatitis-like ailments, which thrive in this warm, damp environment.   

Greasy Heel and Mud Fever are inflammatory conditions of the skin (dermatitis) involving the lower limbs, particularly, the non-pigmented (white/pink) skin. The organisms that are responsible for Greasy Heel and Mud Fever include fungi, bacteria, and mites, which can be present in the "feathers" (the long, full hair on the lower leg and pasterns), which are a valued characteristic of many heavy harness breeds, like Clydesdales.

Horses with white hair on their lower legs (socks or stockings) are also prone to Mud Fever and Greasy Heel.  Horses with “feathers” are particularly susceptible, as their legs are often overlooked during grooming and skin lesions are hidden until they are quite advanced, extremely painful, swollen and difficult to manage.

The only way to get on top of the fast spread of these skin conditions is to remove the scaly, scabby, crusts from the sores, and they will most likely bleed.  The pain and discomfort of this process will make some horses quite resentful, even dangerous, so only an experienced horse handler should be charged with the task of undertaking such treatment.  It is advisable to clip the affected legs, and the raw open wounds should be bathed in a suitable solution (which may be part of the process of removing the scabs).  Some Mustad Saddleworld customers have reported pleasing results when they follow the wash with a light spray of antibacterial, as this helps to curb the spread of fungal spores and a broad range of secondary infections. 

It is most important to thoroughly dry the affected areas.  The use of an electric hair dryer, on the warm setting, is recommended.  The wounds are then liberally dressed with a soothing, anti-fungal/anti-bacterial preparation, of which there are some excellent choices available from Mustad Saddleworld.  If possible, keep the horse out of wet grass and damp areas and in some instances, bandaging the legs with Gamgee and cohesive wrap will help the healing process.

It is an unfortunate reality that skin conditions can be difficult to eradicate, and in extreme cases, a vet may be needed to advise.   It is likely that a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics or anti-fungal drugs will be prescribed.

There is nothing we can do about the weather, but skin conditions can be avoided (or minimised) by frequent grooming and regular, thorough inspections of the at-risk areas.  The application of treatment at the first sign of lesions or any suspicious looking rash, is the key to successful management.

These precautions will require a suitably stocked first aid kit to avoid any delay to the commencement of remedial measures.  

Skin conditions - dirt.  Scurf and dander in a horse’s coat are natural signs of the ever-evolving generation of new skin cells.   When horses are in the wild, or kept with friends in a large paddock without rugs, they roll and rub, engaging in mutual grooming, which keeps their skin and coat healthy. 

In domesticated circumstances, we cover horses (seasonal rugging) to keep them clean, sleek, and to ease the burden of daily grooming.  However, these advantages come at a cost, and nature's wonder healer – fresh air and the sunshine – are prevented from doing their job!

Covering the horse’s coat traps dead hair and skin cells, holding the discarded materials against healthy skin.  In most circumstances regular grooming and the frequent changing of under-rugs will be enough to prevent skin conditions and infections from developing.  However, this may not apply in cases of sensitive skinned horses, or when the horse remains sweaty and damp, or when there is an underlying condition, which gives rise to skin eruptions and/or itches. 

Top Tip … Keep a cotton/polycotton under-rug on the horse at all times and make sure it is clean and changed frequently, this is a must for healthy skin!  In extreme cases, the protective under-rugs should be washed in a low allergenic detergent to reduce the potential of an adverse reaction to chemical or detergent residues.

Keeping horses as clean as possible will help to limit the spread of infection, and it is very important to eliminate the risk cross contamination.  Do not share brushes and grooming equipment, rugs, saddlecloths and bandages with other horses in the barn or paddock.

In persistent skin conditions, it may be necessary to isolate affected horses and completely quarantine the equipment that is used in their care and training.

Visit one of our three Mustad Saddleworld stores or our online shop to find out more about our wide range of hoof and skin care products to protect your horses this winter.

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