Top Tips for Winter Horse Care

Dark mornings, dark nights and bad weather make winter a pretty miserable time for most equestrians but do not fret Naylors is here to help you battle through the winter into summer with minimal fuss. From treating winter health problems to managing your winter turnout, this blog will look at every aspect of winter turnout and winter horse care.

Winter Ailments

With winter comes the rain, and with the rain comes the mud! There are many ailments that horses can suffer with that are particularly prominent during the winter months. Follow our top tips to help identify, treat and prevent further onsets of the typical winter ailments.

mud fever feet and legsMud Fever

Mud Fever is caused by the bacteria Dermatophilus Congolensis that is present in wet and muddy conditions and causes a painful skin condition that affects the lower legs. Mud Fever can range from mild irritation to very painful infected sores that cause severe inflammation and even lameness in severe cases. Mud fever will not simply go away on its own and requires immediate treatment to prevent spreading.

The bacteria can lie dormant on the horses skin and only causes a problem once the skin becomes damaged and the bacteria is able to enter. Although mud fever is most common through the winter months, some horses can suffer from mud fever all year around. Mud fever is most prevalent in wet and muddy conditions but can also be caused if the skin becomes compromised and weakened; frequent washing of legs without thorough drying, sweating, incorrectly fitting boots and bandages can damage the skin and allow the bacteria to enter.

Mud fever is characterised by the painful sores and scabs on the legs but in extreme cases there can be severe swelling and lameness. Legs suffering from mud fever often have a lumpy appearance and the skin will feel very scabby and bumpy to the touch. Mud fever is most common on the lower limbs but can affect anywhere mud and wet reaches like the upper legs and belly.

Prevention is better than cure!

Prevention is always better than cure, so rather than waiting for mud fever to strike take action now.

  • If possible prevent your horse from standing in muddy conditions for long periods of time. This may mean fencing off muddy and boggy ground, adding hardcore to gateways or allowing your horse time in the stable so his legs can dry out.
  • Always check your horse’s legs daily for cuts, scrapes and damaged skin that could allow bacteria to enter and early signs of infection.
  • Carefully brush off mud with a soft brush once it has dried taking care not to scratch the horse’s legs.
  • If your horse is prone to mud fever consider investing in some turnout boots to reduce exposure to the muddy and wet conditions.
  • Consider clipping hairy or heavy feathered legs as they can trap moisture and create the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria.
  • If washing mud off works for your horse, use an anti bacterial wash and ensure the legs are thoroughly dried afterwards. Premier Equine Quick Dry Stable Wraps are brilliant at wicking away moisture from the horse’s legs leaving them warm, dry and comfortable.
  • Try a mud block cream or lotion that is applied directly to the horse’s legs before turnout or exposure to muddy conditions. Mud block lotions and creams are generally oil based and allow mud to slide off the leg rather than sticking.
  • Ensure your horse is healthy and getting all the nutrients he needs; a malnourished or sick horse or one with a poor immune system could be more prone to mud fever.

Treating Mud Fever

Lincoln Muddy Buddy GroupWe have a variety of products specifically aimed at the treatment and prevention of mud fever from antibacterial washes like Equimins Winter Leg Scrub to barrier creams and lotions like Equimins Mud Block Cream and Lincoln Mud Screen. The Carr & Day & Martin MF Pro kit is particularly useful as it contains everything you need in one handy box. If your horse is unfortunate enough to suffer from mud fever, follow our top tips to get him back to full health again:

  •  Legs must be kept clean and dry so it may be necessary to stable your horse while you treat the mud fever. If his legs are constantly exposed to wet and muddy conditions they will not heal.
  • Scabs must be removed in order to treat the infection but this must be done very carefully as this could be extremely painful for the horse. It is best to soak and soften the scabs with warm water and an antibacterial wash to allow them to be removed easily. It may not be possible to get all the scabs off at once without causing the horse distress so work on them slowly over a course of a few days.
  • It is extremely important that legs are dried after washing. Wet legs offer the perfect environment for the bacteria to breed, so although it is necessary to wash legs clean from mud, if you do not dry them they will not heal. Legs should be patted with a towel, blotted with kitchen paper or dried with a hairdryer if it is safe to do so. Rubbing with a towel may irritate inflamed skin and break open already damaged skin. Wickable stable boots or wraps can also be a great way to dry the horse’s leg as they wick the moisture away from the skin and onto the outside of the boots.
  • It may be necessary to carefully clip away excess hair to allow for full access to the affected area and to help the legs dry quicker.
  • Apply a topical cream to the affected area to aid healing such as Carr & Day & Martin Wound Cream or Equimins MSM Healing Cream.
  • Where possible expose the legs to air to allow natural healing. Deep cracks and wounds may need dressing until they are suitably healed to prevent infection or contamination occurring.
  • Continue treating your horse at least once a day until the mud fever has completely vanished. If even a little remains it will flare up again very quickly.
  • If the mud fever does not begin to heal within about a week, seems to be getting worse, the legs begin to swell and ooze or your horse seems in pain you should contact your vet. In extreme cases veterinary treatment and antibiotics may be needed.

Horses that have suffered with mud fever tend to be more prone to it in the future so make sure you keep a close on eye on your horse’s legs and take preventative steps to make sure it does not return.

rain scaldRain Scald

Rain scald is caused by the same bacteria as mud fever, Dermatophilus Congolensis, and is common in wet conditions. Rain scald (or Rain rot) is characterised by the matted hair and hair loss, scabs and sore areas that appear on the horse’s back, neck and sometimes the head. When the scabs are removed the skin will appear pink and sore underneath often with a yellow/green pus, very similar in appearance to mud fever on the legs.

Rain scald is prevalent in wet conditions particularly if horses do not have access to shelter and remain continuously wet or damp. Rain scald can be spread between other horses through the use of infected grooming brushes, rugs or tack. Rain scald is an aggressive condition that can spread quickly along the whole of the horse’s body if action is not taken.

Prevention is better than cure!

Prevention is always better than cure, so rather than waiting for rain scald to strike take action now.

  • Invest in a good waterproof turnout rug to protect your horse from the worst of the wet weather, particularly if he lives out all year.
  • Field shelters will offer horses shelter from the wet weather.
  • Barrier creams and lotions can be applied directly to the horse’s back to offer a certain degree of water resistance.
  • Stable your horse during extremely wet periods, even if it is only for a few hours, it will give his coat time to dry out properly.
  • Ensure your horse is healthy and getting all the nutrients he needs; a malnourished or sick horse or one with a poor immune system could be more prone to rain scald.

Treatment of Rain Scald

  • Ideally the affected area should be kept clean and dry so it may be necessary to stable your horse while you treat the rain scald. If your horse is constantly exposed to wet conditions his skin will not be able to heal.
  • Scabs must be removed in order to treat the infection but this must be done very carefully as this could be extremely painful for the horse. It is best to soak and soften the scabs with warm water and an antibacterial wash to allow them to be removed easily. It may not be possible to get all the scabs off at once without causing the horse distress so work on them slowly over a course of a few days.
  • It is extremely important that the infected are is dried after washing. Wet hair offers the perfect environment for the bacteria to breed, so although it is necessary to wash the area if you do not dry properly it will not heal. Pat the area dry with a towel, blot with kitchen paper or dry with a hairdryer if it is safe to do so. Rubbing with a towel may irritate inflamed skin and break open already damaged skin.
  • It may be necessary to carefully clip away excess hair to allow for full access to the affected area and to help the body dry quicker.
  • Apply a topical cream to the affected area to aid healing such as Carr & Day & Martin Wound Cream or Equimins MSM Healing Cream.
  • Where possible expose the body to air to allow natural healing.
  • Continue treating your horse at least once a day until the rain scald has completely vanished. If even a little remains it will flare up again very quickly.
  • If the rain scald does not begin to heal within about a week, seems to be getting worse, becomes swollen, begins to ooze or your horse seems in pain you should contact your vet. In extreme cases veterinary treatment and antibiotics may be needed.

Some horses tend to be more prone to rain scald than others so, if this is the case, make sure you keep a close on eye on your horse’s back, neck and body and take preventative steps to make sure it does not return.

ThrushThrush

Thrush is a smelly bacterial infection of the hoof/frog that can be caused by standing on wet, damp, dirty ground or stable conditions. The bacteria responsible for thrush thrives in damp, dirty conditions with minimal oxygen and so the hoof is the perfect environment.

Prevention is better than cure!

To hep prevent thrush make sure you pick your horse’s feet out twice a day, keep his bedding as clean as possible if he is stabled and try to ensure a dry area for him to stand when in the field; this may mean you have to move your horse to a field with better drainage.

Treatment

An antibacterial wash should be used to clean the frog and infected area like Lincoln Hoof Disinfectant. Good hygiene is imperative at this point so the horse should be moved to a clean and dry environment.

General well being during the winter

Winter can be a challenging time for both horses and owners. Not only do we have to contend with dark mornings and nights, miserable weather and seemingly endless yard chores but maintaining your horse’s condition throughout the winter months can be difficult. Autumn is a great time to stand back and assess your horse and how you are going to manage his general well being through the winter. Can your horse afford to lose a few pounds or is he likely to struggle to maintain weight and condition?

 

KM Elite Ultimate Oil 1LtrGrass quality reduces significantly during the winter months so it may be worth considering feeding your horse a general supplement if he is living out to ensure he gets all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals he needs. Why not try a feed balancer like NAF Five Star Optimum Feed Balancer or adding a general supplement like Global Herbs GlobalVite to his feed. Adding an oil to your horse’s feed will add calories without the need for increasing the amount of feed.

 

Mud-X 1kgGive your horse the best defences against mud fever and other skin problems by feeding Global Herbs MudX. MudX works from the inside to ensure optimum skin health throughout the winter months and can be especially benefical to horses prone to mud fever, rain scald and other skin problems. Other supplements that could help maintain healthy skin are MSM, Cider Vinegar, Flax or Linseed Oil, Seaweed and Turmeric. It may also be worth feeding your horse a supplement to help his immune system and body defenses against mud fever and other skin conditions if he struggles during the winter months.

equilibrium close contact 2Turnout Boots

Turnout boots can help protect your horse’s legs from mud fever and injuries during turnout. Turnout boots fit closely around the lower leg of the horse usually from the top of the hoof to the bottom on the knee. As well as protecting your horse from knocks and scrapes when in the field, turnout boots will help to keep your horse’s legs warm, dry and mud free making them great for horse’s prone to mud fever and those with arthritis and stiff joints. Turnout boots must be fitted correctly and kept clean as badly fitting and dirty boots can cause rubbing and sores which, as well as being uncomfortable and painful for your horse, could allow the bacteria that causes mud fever to easily enter the skin.

Equilibrium Equi-Chaps Close Contact Chaps have been specially designed to keep the horse’s legs dry and help prevent mud fever. The Equi-Chaps offer a close fit and can be worn for up to 12 hours. Premier Equine Turnout Boots and Roma Neoprene Leg Wraps are both made from durable neoprene and have been designed to help keep horse’s legs warm, dry and mud fever free during turnout.

Equilibrium close contactWinter rugs

There are a variety of winter rugs available to keep your horse warm and cosy this winter. Heavyweight rugs are ideal for horses that are clipped or feel the cold whereas medium weight rugs are great for native and hardy types, those that have not been clipped or for particularly warm horses. Have a look at our winter rugs blog for a more indepth look at what rugs to use this winter.

Winter Paddock Maintenance

It is important to maintain your horse’s paddock during winter so your horse can make the most of his time out. Horses are heavy animals so will churn up fields especially when the ground turns soft but you can make some changes to your turnout to make sure as little damage as possible is caused to your grazing.

  • Try to choose a field with good drainage for the winter months; fields with natural drainage like ditches at the perimeter are great, but it is important to keep ditches clear of debris so they can work properly. Fields on higher ground or on a hill may be drier during bad weather due to the natural drainage of the landscape. Man made drainage can be installed to fields but this is often an expensive and time consuming project.
  • Using hardcore in gateways can help prevent mud becoming an issue. Horses tend to congregate around gateways when waiting to come in and so the ground can easily and quickly become poached and churned. Putting straw or shavings down in gateways can also help minimise mud.
  • If there is enough grazing available try rotating paddocks so they do not get too damaged.
  • Consider a ‘sacrifice paddock’ that can used solely during the winter months. The sacrifice paddock can then be rested and repaired during the summer months.
  • Create an all weather turnout area that could be used for leg stretching rather than using a field.
  • Avoid over grazing paddocks.
  • Pick up droppings regularly.
  • Check fencing regularly to ensure it is secure.
  • Make sure gates are easy to use and properly secured.

Hopefully our top tips and advice will help you get through the winter without a hitch. What top tips do you have for treating winter ailments? How to you make sure you horse stays in tip top condition through the winter months?

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