Horse Management During Excessively Wet Weather


While we have all been relieved to see some rain after the recent drought, we’ve received a little more than we bargained for.  Excessively wet weather can present a number of problems for both your horse’s health and management.

Standing water and muddy footing in high use areas in pastures and paths can promote hoof diseases if your horse stands and/or walks through wet and muddy areas for extended periods.  Preventing the development of excessive mud in congested areas is key to reducing the incidence of hoof problems.  Creating diversion ditches and drainage aids in gateways and on paths can help to control the muddy and wet conditions.

Maintaining healthy hooves in wet weather can be difficult, but it is important to do.  Moderate moisture is needed to maintain healthy hooves, but too much causes the outer keratin horn to become soft and more flexible, thus weaker.  Microorganisms that are naturally present on the hoof and in the soil take advantage of the moist environment to colonize the weak hoofs and defects in the hoof wall.  The microorganisms can lead to the development of hoof wall separation (seedy toe), hoof cracks, thrush or white line disease from chronically damp hooves.

If your horse can be stabled for a period during each day and bedded on shavings or pellets this can draw out moisture and help dry the feet.  Avoid using hoof dressings or oils unless needed as these may trap bacteria in the moist hoof.

Pastern dermatitis (scratches) and rain rot/scald are two forms of skin issues your horse may experience in times of heavy rainfall.  Pastern dermatitis affects the lower limbs and happens when your horse’s skin is compromised.  The cause can be bacteria, sunburn, contact/irritant or allergic reaction.  You will notice reddened skin, inflammation, crusty scabs on the skin, and swollen legs.  Rain scald is similar but affects the torso, usually the back and shoulders, and occurs when skin is constantly damp, it may not always be obvious, so regularly run your hand along his back to check for any scabs.

Prevention is better than cure so cleaning mud from your horse and allowing time to dry out can help protect their skin.  If you notice any of these conditions on your horse, you should call your veterinarian for advice on the best antiseptic washes to use.  In severe cases, antibiotics may be needed following an examination.

This column is sponsored by Polk Equine.

BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine.  She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine.  Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.

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DR. KATIE HENNESSY