Fighting Foot Funk

How to combat foot issues such as thrush, white line disease, and abscesses that can develop in or be exacerbated by moist, muddy conditions

Mud is one of the worst enemies of hoof health. While equine feet need moisture to prevent cracking and chipping, they can become too soft in wet environments. Feet that are continually soft and moist tend to lose their structural integrity—becoming vulnerable to conditions such as thrush, white line disease, and abscesses. In this article we’ll explain how to prevent and manage these common springtime issues.

Step 1: Minimize Mud

Leah Ellis, DVM, an internal medicine resident at the University of Prince Edward Island’s Atlantic Veterinary College, in Canada, practices in a region that gets a lot of rain.

“We have a long season of mud,” she says. Ellis has a particular interest in hoof health and recently published a case study about white line disease. “I try to help horse owners manage and plan to minimize mud problems, including ways to feed horses in paddocks. If you can situate or plan a paddock with uphill areas that are well-drained, this is where you could put the round bale or hay feeder, so that when horses are eating they are standing on ground that is drier than the rest of the paddock. Once every year or two you could add a gravel pack on that uphill area so it will continue to drain well.”

Other areas where horses spend significant time, such as by water sources or the gate, might also need a rock and gravel base.

“We want to ensure that the areas where they spend time are not the swampiest parts of the paddock,” says Ellis. “You can plan ahead regarding which paddock you might use during the wettest parts of the year to avoid overusing and beating up the paddocks that have grass.”

Owners who take a break from riding in winter often think they can pull their horses’ shoes and save money at farrier visits, but bare feet that aren’t properly maintained can get chipped and damaged easily, making it easier for hoof diseases to gain a foothold. Further, wet or muddy footing might compromise hoof integrity more easily.

Fighting Foot Funk

Travis Burns, MSc, CJF, TE, EE, FWCF, chief of farrier services at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, in Blacksburg, Virginia, explains why. “The foot expands when soft and may give microbes opportunity to invade,” he says. “Mud also predispose horses to shoe loss.”

A soft hoof doesn’t hold nails well, and deep mud can impair a horse’s normal way of traveling. He might step on one shoe with another foot and pull it off. This can be a perpetual vicious cycle: If the horse loses a shoe—especially if he pulls it off forcefully, taking some of the hoof wall with it—it can be difficult to nail back on. Those defects also make it much easier for microbes such as bacteria and fungi to

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