5 Issues Mud Season Can Bring to Your Barn

Nicole Landreneau photo. 2015 USDF Arts Contest Entry

Mud season. The excitement of warmer spring days can quickly be tempered when you spend ages cleaning your horse only for him to go roll in the muddiest spot of his paddock as soon as he’s turned out.  In addition to the inconveniences of mud season, it can also lead to several health issues in horses.  Here are 5 things to watch out for once mud season begins at your barn.

Thrush is a bacterial infection of the frog, which is characterized by a moist black discharge on the sides of the frog, and a foul odor. Thrush is often caused by wet conditions where the feet are not regularly cleaned and given time to dry out. Copper sulfate is a common topical treatment, along with keeping your horse in dry, clean conditions until the thrush abates. You should consult with your farrier and veterinarian if you think your horse might have thrush. Left untreated, thrush can cause serious lameness and further complications.

Sole bruises are an injury to the sensitive structures under the sole of the foot, resulting in a “bruise” from damage to the many tiny blood vessels under the sole, creating bleeding inside the foot. This is often from something as simple as walking on a sharp stone, commonly unearthed during the spring thaw. The symptoms of a sole bruise are usually pain and lameness. Most sole bruises will resolve on their own, but it is important to keep an eye out in case of a hematoma developing.Your farrier or vet will be able to diagnose a sole bruise using hoof testers, and sometimes an x-ray to rule out other serious issues. Treatment usually includes paring the sole to relieve pressure, overnight poulticing, and protective bandaging until the bruise has resolved. 

Abscesses occur when bacteria gets trapped between the laminae and the hoof wall, and creates a buildup of pus, causing pressure behind the hoof wall or sole of the foot. Abscesses are fairly simple to treat but can be a pain when they develop. An abscess usually causes sudden onset lameness, and can present with several symptoms beyond lameness, including heat, pain in the heel bulb or coronary band, and sometimes swelling. Hoof testers can be used to pinpoint where an abscess has developed within the foot. Treatment often involves soaking the affected foot in an Epsom salt and warm water soak, and poulticing. Some vets or farriers will drain an abscess for you, but an abscess will often “blow” on its own within a few days. Abscesses can occur anywhere in the foot and will often pop out the coronet band, where the skin is the softest. If you suspect your horse might have an abscess, be sure to call your vet to confirm in order to prevent the infection from spreading and creating a much larger problem. 

White Line Disease is another common ailment.  The white line is the light band visible between the hoof wall and the sole after a horse’s feet have been trimmed by a farrier. White line disease is the separation of the wall and the middle layer of hoof tissue. In severe cases, white line disease can cause lameness, and subsequently rotation of the coffin bone, and damage to the supportive structures of the foot. While there are a lot of unknowns about what causes white line disease, diagnosis is pretty straightforward. When a horse is being trimmed, a farrier will notice a crumbly or powdery black or gray tissue at the white line. Separation of the hoof layers from toe towards the coronary band will become evident as they pare away the damaged horn, and hoof wall palpation will produce a hollow sound.  If your farrier notices your horse might have white line disease, he or she will work with your vet in order to develop an extensive and individualized treatment plan. Treatment will involve removing the affected tissue, a topical antibacterial, keeping the hoof from becoming re-infected, and finally, protecting the hoof as it grows new tissue. Some treatment plans may involve special shoes. Recovery from white line disease can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more, depending on severity, and recurrence is frequently seen. Regular shoeing/trimming, and keeping clean stalls are a good way to head off white line disease, but any horse can develop it. 

Lost shoes are not only an inconvenience, but can be expensive if you can’t find the pulled shoe in the paddock. Lost or pulled shoes can also pose a danger to some horses, as they may step on the pulled shoe, resulting in a nail in their foot (which can then lead to infections and other complications). It’s also dangerous if a horse steps on himself with shoes on and the shoe doesn’t come off fully. If a horse has a conformation flaw that may predispose him or her to stepping on and pulling their shoes (upright pasterns, short backs, etc), they may need to wear bell boots while on turnout, and your farrier may need to shoe them differently. You should consult your farrier if your horse seems to be pulling his shoes quite frequently between trims and resets.

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