I was reading a blog post the other day on horses in the US and this phenomenon they have called ‘mud season‘. We have it here in Ireland as well, only it runs for 12 months of the year or as we horsey folk call it – life. However it did get me thinking why do horses not share our distaste for the mucky stuff and does it cause any harm?
Mud Glorious Mud
I have a grey pony that has definitely perfected the art of rolling in mud, although to be fair she will also roll in the sea or water (especially on xc courses). As you can see she is perfecting her undercover disguise – as a mud patch!
According to Horse & Country she isn’t the only grey horse that likes to change colour, they ran a photo share on muddy horses and the majority of them were, surprise surprise .. grey (to start with).
Unfortunately despite the enjoyment horses seem to get from playing around in mud, sometimes it isn’t a horses’ best friend.
Mud is not without risk especially once it gets quite deep, as this horse discovered after trying to drink in a stream that was thick with mud. Luckily she was rescued by the local fire brigade and a vet after being spotted by her owner.
One of the most challenging problems for horses being kept in wet weather is mud fever. Properly known as pastern dermatitis it is an infection of the skin which produces an inflammatory reaction. According to Horse and Hound
"Symptoms vary in severity, initially starting with inflammation of the skin and underlying tissues at the back of the pastern and heel region...As the area swells slightly, the skin stretches, starts to secrete pus which dries and glues the strands of hair together forming hard, scabby lumps and matted, tufted hair."
The following diagram shows what typical mud fever looks like and how vulnerable the open sores can be if they are kept constantly wet and dirty.
Signs of Mud Fever
There are a number of signs that indicate your horse is suffering from mud fever, here are some of the more obvious ones;
- Several small, circular, lesions beneath scabs
- discharge between the skin and overlying scab
- Heat, swelling and pain on flexion of limb
- Possible lameness in the injured leg
- If very affected possible, lethargy, depression and loss of appetite
Other symptoms can be found in this article in Horse and Hound. If you want to read more information on this topic including some more detailed pictures, the following guide is available on Amazon for only $0.98, so it won’t break the bank.
Treating Mud Fever
There are a range of creams and lotions that can treat Mud fever such as the following organic skin lotion 4oz Horse Skin Relief Treatment
The problem with many of the creams and lotions is that most require the skin to be kept dry, which can be difficult enough if stabling isn’t an option and your horse is living outside permanently.
Natural mud fever treatment
There are a number of natural remedies that work for mud fever these include some of the following;
- Graphites (black lead): one of the main remedies, especially useful where the skin is very weepy and sore
- Malandrinum (grease from a horse’s skin): this remedy is of most use in more severe cases but can be combined with graphites for milder cases
- Petroleum (crude oil from rock): useful where there are severe skin cracks, soreness and thick scabs in the skin
- Thuja (Arbor vitae, the Tree of Life). This is most useful for stubborn cases
- Washing with an antibacterial wash (also tee tree)
- Using pig oil and flowers of sulphur rubbed into the horses leg before it goes out (or baby oil)
- Manuka honey is another remedy known for healing a variety of open cuts and wounds where bacteria can infect. Simply apply a couple of times a day.
To Hose or Not to Hose Mud Fever?
There are different opinions on hosing horses down after being out in a muddy field, surprisingly hosing can actually force the mud further into the leg and the moisture provides an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria.
Allowing the mud to dry naturally or wiping it off with hay and then brushing in the morning, can be more effective and provide a natural barrier preventing the bacteria reaching the skin.
Grooming Muddy Horses
So finally it’s left to us as the rider to clean and groom the horse. However this will need to be done gently and if treatment is needed the legs will need to be dried thoroughly.
One option is to use mud boots such as the ones shown here
The biggest challenge is trying to keep the horses legs from getting too wet and muddy.
There are different suggestions for keeping horses dry (although perhaps not too many apply in Ireland unless the horse is to be stabled all the time). So perhaps all we can do is look forward to the good weather – or if it’s like today, enjoy the sunshine along with the intermittent snow, hail and rain showers.