preventing scratches

 

Prevent infection and fungus on your horse’s legs

 

  • The dreaded scratches, dew poisoning, mud fever, and fungus-amongus leg infections are the bane of many a horse owner. Most of us call any leg funk “fungus,” but there are many other things that create skin infections on a horse’s leg. Collectively, leg skin issues fall under the umbrella of equine pastern dermatitis (EPD). Thank you to bacteria, mites, sunlight, and liver problems for making this process difficult.  

 

  • Because there are so many causes of EPD – work with your vet about possible reasons to get a targeted solution. If you have dealt with EPD, you know how hard it can be to heal. And then prevent infections and fungus on your horse’s legs. Never fear; a few things can help your horse stay clear of EPD.

 

scratches on a white horse lower leg with pink skin

This horse’s scratches are healing well.  Below the fetlock is clipped to better apply medications, and this horse also wears Silver Whinny’s.  The initial infection covered the pastern and fetlock.

 

Groom more, shampoo less.

 

  • While it’s super tempting to blast stains away and use every product under the sun, you risk stripping the skin of sebum. This natural oil on your horse’s skin and coat is anti-microbial, provides waterproofing, and creates shine.  

 

  • Detergents like Orvus are for laundry, not your horse. Stick to mild shampoos, and spend more time currying and brushing than soaping up. 

 

  • Daily grooming is the absolute key to knowing your horse’s health. It’s always easier to get ahead of problems – especially when it comes to skin issues. With a runaway reaction, even the most minor cuts or tiny scabs can quickly cover the lower leg.

Diet

 

  • Skin and coat health comes from genetics, exercise, grooming, and diet. It’s never as easy as reading a few labels to decide the best diet for your horse. Your horse’s age, fitness, job, type of hay and where it’s grown, access to pasture, and medical history all influence the ideal diet for your horse. 

 

  • A forage-based diet with a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement or ration balancer is a great starting point. Some horses will need extra Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Fresh pasture is a great source for this, as are flaxseed and chia seeds.  

 

  • I will always suggest working with an equine nutritionist to create a custom diet. It’s affordable and will ultimately save you dollars.  

 

chia seeds and flax seeds in a palm

Flax and chia seeds may help your horse’s skin and coat thrive.

 

Parasite control

 

  • Parallel to diet is having a good parasite protection program in place. This includes internal and external parasites of horses.  

 

  • Because some intestinal parasites in horses are developing resistance to current deworming medications, horses should be tested in the spring and fall. A fecal egg count can measure approximate levels of ascarids in your horse, which then guides the suggested deworming protocols. Gone are the days of following a rotational deworming schedule – it’s a targeted approach to deworming now. When a horse has an overload of intestinal parasites, those jerks steal nutrients and may even cause colic and other intestinal problems. Internal parasites also create a lackluster coat and poor skin health. 

 

  • Fly control is also critical for your horse’s skin health. Insects are a nuisance and can create hives, sarcoids, and aural plaques. Allergic reactions to midges, also known as no-see-ums, cause sweet itch, and many horses have hives as a result of other allergic reactions. 

 

Boots, wraps, and leg protection

 

  • When you wrap or boot your horse’s legs – the objective is to protect them from interference, knocks, and hitting rails. But, there can be some extra things to consider. Mainly – are the boots and wraps clean? Are the legs clean to start with? No reason to trap dirt and bacteria on unclean legs.  

 

  • Consider the materials and fabrics of your chosen boots, too. Neoprene and hard-sided boots will not breathe and circulate air, which warms the legs and may create the best new home for a skin infection. 

 

  • There are some boots that block that dreaded mud (!!!!!!) Designed to be roomy enough to cover bandages and wraps if needed, these horse Whinny Wellies work to prevent mud.

 

sox for horses whinny wellie to keep legs dry

These mud-busting boots from Sox for Horses are peak winter fashion for horses. 

 

Mud maintenance at the barn 

 

  • The bane of every horse owner’s existence is MUD. It’s hard to clean off in the winter and contributes to skin conditions and a dull coat. Keeping your horse protected from mud necessitates a multi-pronged effort. 

 

  • Mud management is part pasture management, part drainage, and part luck. Don’t let horses eat the pasture bare until mud is inevitable. Rotate pastures to keep the root structures healthy and hopefully prevent some mud. Use dry lots to provide slow feeding options when the fields are too wet. Sloping paddocks are best, and sometimes you can cut little channels into the ground to drain water away. If corners get a bit muddy, block them off with panels or temporary fencing to keep the horses out.  

 

  • Move slow feeders and round bales around so that one area of your turnouts doesn’t take the brunt of the hoof prints. For smaller paddocks and turnouts, you could add stone dust or bedding to areas that get extra wet. 

 

  • When you are grooming, it’s best to let all mud dry before currying combing and brushing. If you are lucky and the weather agrees, you can rinse or bathe any dirt away. You will definitely want to clean your grooming tools more often dealing with mud. 

 

To clip or not to clip

 

  • For many horses, having clipped legs can help prevent skin infections and fungus on a horse’s legs. Shorter hair means that the legs will dry faster, and dirt is easier to remove. Nicks and skin irritations are easier to see, and more effectively apply medications. 

 

  • The skin, for some horses, can stay healthier when leg hair is clipped because moisture and dirt aren’t trapped in the skin. You don’t have to clip to the skin; you can use a #8.5 blade or add clipper combs. Leaving just a millimeter more hair in summer protects pink skin and provides more coverage in cold weather. 

gray horse getting lower legs trimmed

Clipping is optional, and may help some horses repel lower leg funky skin stuff.

 

Don’t skip on wound care

 

  • It’s tempting to let smaller wounds do their thing and heal on their own, but that can land your horse in a big pickle. Cellulitis is one of those potentially chronic (and expensive) conditions that often result from the smallest of nicks. Lower legs are also a lot dirtier than the rest of your horse – shavings, mud, sweat, and grime all love to call the skin home. 

 

  • Wounds can be treated by clipping the area and then cleaning with saline, or a solution of chlorhexidine or betadine. Then apply any medications or dressings, and maybe wrap things up in a bandage or standing wrap to help prevent infections. 

 

  • Active cases of EPD benefit from using horse socks.  These socks can get muddy and wet, and provide breathable coverage that allows airflow, coverage of medications, and prevention of further infection.  After healing is done, they can be used as a preventative for bacteria and fungus on your horse’s legs, among other things.  

 

horse wearing sox for horses on mat

Fashionable and functional Silver Whinny’s from Sox for Horses.

 

 

Don’t share grooming supplies and tack 

 

  • Humans and our supplies are the perfect vectors for jerky bacteria and fungus to hop from horse to horse. The fungal infection ringworm and the bacterial infection rain rot are prime examples of such hitchhikers. 

 

  • These microbes use our hands, grooming supplies, and even girths and saddle pads to spread around. Don’t share grooming supplies and tack, and keep your grooming tools clean. Routine cleaning with an anti-microbial solution like chlorhexidine is a great way to do that. 

 

The best treatment of EPD is the one that matches the cause of the EPD. It is entirely possible to do the right things and STILL have some fungus on your horse’s legs. Save some money and stress by having the vet out earlier rather than later. 

 

go shopping button for horse products

 

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Chlorhexidine is great for wounds and brush cleaning.

 

horse wearing sox for horses on mat

 

Sox for Horses – for any skin funk, fly problems, summer sore, stomping, etc.

 

Yes – you can get a fecal egg count test in the mail.

Wahl Professional Animal ARCO with 5 in 1 blade

 

The Chromado, also available in black and also great for a leg tidy.

 

 

 

The KM10’s are the gold standard for body clippers and can make easy work of trimming lower legs. 

 

Thank you!