Mud and Your Horse's Health

Updated: Dec 19, 2018

The lower mainland was a rainforest only 150 years ago. We chopped down most of the trees and planted a cities and fields over top of it, but the wet weather and moist ground still remains. The result is that horses in this habitat are vulnerable to the following mud related issues:

Sole bruising Persistent water and mud exposure can make hooves more susceptible to sole bruising—even from small stones and barefoot horses in particular might become tenderfooted.

Thrush This anaerobic (able to survive with little to no oxygen) bacterial disease affects the frog and surrounding sensitive tissues, can be painful for horses, and difficult to clear up if feet are constantly wet.

White line disease The anaerobic bacteria or fungi that cause this condition can creep into and infect the inner nonpigmented space within the hoof wall, particularly with constant mud exposure; this is why white line disease is more prevalent in humid regions.  

Abscesses These localized accumulations of pus within the horse’s hoof are common in soft, permeable feet; sand or small bits of gravel and debris can penetrate the sole or the white line. Flares create separation; foreign material gets pressed up in there and may create an abscess.

Scratches This lower limb issue, also known as pastern dermatitis, dew poisoning, or greasy heel, involves painful inflammation and lesions around pasterns that are exposed to moisture and mud. If this occurs, you should call a veterinarian because the horse may need antibiotics, and in some instances might need systemic antibiotics versus something topical. The hair may need to be clipped away and the lower limbs scrubbed and then kept clean and dry.  

Preventing Problems

Suppose your horse’s paddock is a perpetual boggy mess and you’ve grown accustomed to it daily. All is not lost: If your horse’s paddock is completely mud-filled, you can create a mound using rocks, gravel, or solid footing where he can get out of the muck.

For a more permanent solution to your mud problems, consider installing high-traffic area pads (typically made of geotextile fabric, crushed stone, and a dense grade aggregate) around gates or watering areas. These smooth, dry surfaces require some initial cost, but can provide years of mud relief in high-traffic areas.

Take-Home Message

Keep a close watch on your horse’s feet this soggy season. Employ regular farrier care and call your veterinarian at the first sign of a moisture-related problem brewing. A hoof-tissue-eating pathogen or strained ligament can quickly put a damper on your horse’s comfort and your riding plans.