There are any number of proverbs and clichés related to horse health but one of the truest has to be “No Hoof, No Horse”. Thrush is a distressing condition which can make your horse thoroughly miserable and unable to walk without pain. It is easily prevented and is a condition that, quite frankly, should not occur in as many cases as it does. No self respecting horse owner should allow it to develop. If one horse in a field or stable has thrush it can become the source of infection for other animals by contaminating the environment. There is some disagreement on the length of time the bacteria can survive off the animal but it is believed to survive for as long as ten months. It is also possible for us to contract thrush when treating a badly infected hoof, so you must be careful when treating it should your horse be unfortunate enough to have infected hooves.
Recognising Thrush is not difficult. It appears as a foul-smelling, black, clay-like substance in the area surrounding the frog. It is caused by anaerobic bacteria – this is the type of bacteria that thrives without oxygen. Most manure and dirt contain these organisms and if it is allowed to remain packed in hooves it will cause disease and discomfort. Wet bedding doesn’t help, but is not the direct cause.
Muddy conditions, which cannot always be avoided are not good for your horse’s hooves. Hooves and heels can become soft making them more susceptible to bruising and damage as well as Thrush. Long term exposure to moisture and bacteria sets up the perfect environment for thrush to thrive. Basically, horses are at risk for developing thrush in any conditions where the bottom of the hoof is kept in a damp environment. The bacteria thrives particularly well in soil and thus affects horses that stand around in wet mud so if these conditions are unavoidable you should be doubly vigilant in checking and cleaning hooves
Horse hoof care is fairly simple, it is mainly common sense. One of the most basic parts of horse hoof care is picking out the mud, manure, stones and other debris from your horse’s hooves, yet for some reason this one of the most neglect parts of horse health care.
The build up of materials in the hoof can put an undesirable pressure on the sole, cause bruising and even cuts and abrasions which lead to bacterial infections such as thrush. By cleaning out your horse’s feet every day you will soon spot if there is any damage or cause for concern. Some horses, particularly those with upright, narrow feet or deep clefts that tend to trap more dirt, debris, and manure, are more likely to develop thrush even when well cared for.
Well developed cases of thrush are easy to spot – the smell alone is enough to tell you, but it is not so easy to spot an early case. If you are not sure ask your Farrier or Vet to check. A regular trimming schedule with your Farrier also helps prevent and control thrush.
Treating your horse for thrush isn’t difficult as long as he is willing to stand still while you handle his hooves. Simply clean out the hoof thoroughly with a hoof pick and brush, then liberally apply the thrush treatment of your choice to both sides of the frog and to the area around your horse’s shoe. You can use a bleach spray but you need to be careful with this so it is often better to get an appropriate treatment from your Vet or Farrier. You should not attempt to treat severe cases of infection without professional advice. Do not stop treating until you are absolutely certain that your horse is clear of Thrush and do make sure you maintain good hygiene standards when treating to protect yourself from infection.
The best treatment is to not allow Thrush to take hold in the first place so keep the stall clean and dry, or if your horse has to stand in a wet field check his feet regularly. This simple precaution will help maintain good horse health and keep
your horse happy.