mud management
Owners and caretakers gathered recently at The Red Mile Clubhouse, in Lexington, Kentucky, to learn how to better care for their farms and horses during wet weather. The Kentucky Equine Networking Association (KENA) session, presented by the Kentucky Horse Council, featured a panel of experts who addressed mud management on horse farms.

Soggy conditions are nothing new in the Bluegrass: 2018 was one of the wettest years on record and model projections suggest that wetter-than-average weather will persist in the future. At the KENA meeting, Bob Coleman, PhD, and Krista Lea, MS, both of the University of Kentucky (UK), offered insights into wet-weather care for fields and shelters while Craig Lesser, DVM, CF, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, described possible equine health issues that can arise during wet weather.

Mitigating Mud

Coleman, UK Extension horse specialist, reviewed ways owners can modify their farms to better handle precipitation. He said water runoff can come from the roofs of buildings and roads, but also due to the way the land naturally drains. Installing gutters to divert water away from buildings, as well as using swales and culverts, can help eliminate standing water on farms.

At most farms, the heavily trafficked areas are the most prone to mud buildup, including around gates, shelters, waterers, and feeders. Coleman suggested constructing pads in as many of these areas as possible; this involves removing soil and adding geotextile fabric and rock to encourage water to drain away from where horses congregate.

Coleman also shared some good news: In some cases, farm owners might be eligible to receive financial help to installing these pads, though he noted that some programs have specific requirements. He encouraged owners to see if they’re eligible for financial assistance initiatives through County Agriculture Investment Programs, local extension office programs, and other sources.

Pasture Management

“When it comes to managing mud on horse farms, there is no silver bullet, no product or practice that solely eliminates mud, but careful management can minimize the size and severity of the issue,” said Lea, research analyst with the UK Forage Extension Program, about the impact mud has on pastures and fields. “Whether managing grazing or loafing areas, maintaining grasses in a pasture requires occasional rest, good soil fertility and, when needed, the addition of desirable grasses through proper seeding.”

Field rest periods should be a minimum of one week, Lea said, but resting for two to three weeks is ideal. Field soil samples should be taken every two to three years and only the needed nutrients applied, she said. One exception: Nitrogen can be applied twice every fall without a soil test, at 60 to 80 pounds of urea per acre, she said.

Lea cautioned that no amount of fertilizer can make up for poor pasture management. Though area farmers have long planted a mix of tall-fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, white clover, and some ryegrass in September, farm owners can seed ryegrass alone during much of the year to quickly fill in high-traffic areas for short-term cover.

Health and Hoof Issues

Finally, Lesser reviewed hoof conditions horses and owners might face when dealing with an abundance of mud.

These issues included thrush and abscesses, which many KENA attendees said they were familiar with, along with a complication that can develop due to chronic abscesses: septic pedal osteitis (an infection of the coffin bone). Treatment is much more intense that prescribed for “normal” abscesses and can include antibiotics (administered either systemically or via regional limb perfusion), therapeutic shoeing, or even surgery.

An unusual condition that can develop in muddy conditions is quittor—an infection in and around the coffin bone’s collateral cartilage. Lesser said this painful condition can require antibiotic treatment as well as possibly surgical debridement and drain placement.

Another common condition is white line disease, which can contribute to lameness, abscesses, coffin bone rotation, and/or hoof capsule sloughing, none of which should be taken lightly, he said. Supportive shoeing can help in some cases, but more severe cases might require debridement.

Though each condition he reviewed benefits from keeping the horse’s legs and feet clean and dry, Lesser conceded that this isn’t always possible, especially when horses live outside. He said diligent daily care allows horse owners and caretakers to identify and address hoof issues when they first develop; this often means the condition will require less-invasive treatment to resolve.

Next Up

The next KENA meeting will take place Aug. 20 at the Red Mile Clubhouse. Educational series sponsors include Dinsmore Equine Law Group, Neogen Corporation, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, University of Louisville Equine Industry Program, McBrayer Law Firm, and Red Mile.