MUD! December rains have horse owners saying a lot of dirty words

While many were dreaming of a white Christmas, nature had another color in mind this year. Instead of fluffly white flakes, the holidays came with warm weather and plenty of rain. In stables all across the area, that means pastures of mud. That’s enough to make many horsemen actually start wishing for colder weather. At least it will be frozen! Nothing makes going to the barn less enjoyable then wading through the slop to do the daily chores. Pushing a heaping wheel borrow through 6 inches of mud? There’s nothing much more jolly. But beyond the inconvenience and mess, mud can spell deeper problems.

Equine health concerns caused by mud:

For a horse, mud can be an unhealthy environment. Bacteria and fungi live in mud and can cause abscesses, scratches, rain scald and thrush. Scratches, grease heel, mud fever, rain scald and rain rot all share something in common: They are horsemen’s terms for one disease: dermatophilosis. When dermatophilosis strikes the pasterns, horsemen often call it scratches or grease heel; when it affects the horse’s body,they may call it rain rot, rain scald and mud fever. Dermatophilosis is characterized by scaly, crusty, scabby skin, and it’s a particular problem for horses that are exposed to moisture and muck for extended periods.  While every horse has the potential to be affected, those with white legs, those with either long hair or sparse hair on their cannon bones and fetlocks, and those that are turned out in the elements and not groomed every day are the most susceptible.

Bacteria may also find their way into the skin through minor wounds and cause cellulitis. Horses with cellulitis experience swelling and heat in an infected leg. They will show signs of pain and lameness and often have a 102- to 104-degree fever. The fever is important to differentiate cellulitis from a run-of-the-mill lameness. Horses with severe infections will go off feed and show signs of serious discomfort. Their legs become extremely sensitive with inflamed blood vessels. Although cellulitis isn’t a mud-related disorder, mud compromises the skin’s protective barriers against bacteria and keeps wounds soft and open.

In addition to bacteria concerns, muddy pastures also provide mosquitoes and flies a place to breed. Feeding on muddy ground can cause dirt or sand particles to be ingested, which can lead to sand colic. And of course injuries to the horse and humans can result from the slippery footing. Deep mud can cause injuries like bowed tendons and can also be tough on horses with arthritis.

5 hoof problems caused by mud

  1. Softening Hoofs: When horses have their hooves in wet and muddy conditions, their soles begin to soften. This softening is one of the horse hoof problems that can cause a series of issues, including making their hooves sensitive and more likely to bruise.
  2. Lost Shoes: But contrary to what many horse riders assume, the mud does not suck off the shoe. Instead, it causes the horse to pull it off on its own. When a horse slips in the mud, it keeps its front foot on the ground to attempt to reestablish its footing. The horse’s back hoof steps on the heel of the front one and then pulls off the shoe, once the front foot is picked up.  
  3. Abscesses: Bacteria thrives in moist conditions, allowing it to invade your horse’s hoof and work its way towards the sensitive parts of the hoof. It then gets trapped inside the hoof, where it continues to multiply. Sudden limping or showing other signs of lameness should be watched for. There may be some swelling on the horse’s leg that has an infected hoof.
  4. White Line Disease: This disorder is also known as seedy toe, hoof or stall rot, hollow foot, yeast infection, Candida and wall thrush. White Line Disease is a fungal infection which happens when the inner hoof wall separates, creating a hole or crack on the sole. The bacteria will invade through the crevice and begin to eat away at the foot’s The specific bacteria associated with this disease is anaerobic, meaning it lives without oxygen. 
  5. Thrush: When mud gets packed into a horse’s foot, bacteria from the mud begins to establish itself there. While it eats away at the hoof’s tissue, the bacteria also creates an infection with visible discharge. While White Line Disease appears white and dry, thrush in horses shows itself as a dark, gooey substance with a rancid odor. It resides in the grooves within a horse’s frog and in cracks of the hoof.

Get rid of the mud with these stable upgrades

  • Use gutters and downspouts to redirect water. Use collection systems such as rain barrels, cisterns and rain gardens.
  • Build up high traffic areas with some sort of footing such as chipped wood, gravel or course sand to keep horses up out of dirt and allow rainwater to drain through. (Gravel should be no larger than ¾”) Use at least 3 inches of footing or more. If you already have a lot of mud, put footing in at least a 1:1 ratio (for 6 inches of mud, you’ll need at least 6 inches of footing.)
  • If possible, keep horses inside immediately following a rain. Letting pens dry out a little will lessen the areas that get churned up.
  • Create a sacrifice or high-use area to keep horses off the pasture. Use this area during rainy/wet periods or whenever the rest of the pasture needs a rest from grazing. Ideally, pasture grasses should not be allowed to be eaten below 3 inches of growth.
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