Caring for Your Horse this Winter – From the Ground Up

 

Autumn and winter can bring relief from summer heat but the cold and wet of winter and the reduced daylight hours bring their own challenges for horse owners and trainers. We cannot control the weather but with some planning and attention to details the colder months can still be safe and productive.

Thankfully Australia does not generally have the extremes of winter such as Europe and northern America but even in our temperate areas problems can be encountered if preparations are not carried out diligently.

What happens to horses in the cold?

Horses have many mechanisms to help them handle the cold and wet however problems can appear when we ask them to perform competitively while it is cold. Decreases in muscle temperature can have detrimental effects on performance as cold muscles do not cycle as quickly and the nerves supplying instructions to muscles do not fire as quickly. Cold muscles are biomechanically stiffer than warm ones with the result that movements are restricted. As well cold affects the way groups of muscle react or work together which changes the way exercising horses move. This lack of coordination can decrease overall performance and also decrease the resilience of the leg structures thus making it imperative to extend warming up periods before exercising in cold conditions. It is also more important to make sure that major leg structures, i.e. ligaments and tendons, are in perfect condition to withstand the extra stresses applied by exercising cold muscles.

 


 

Infections

Greasy Heel

Grea sy Heel is a common winter ailment. It’s a bacterial infection similar to that of rain scald.  The bacteria are not found in the soil but in the living layers of the epidermis of the skin.  The skin is the primary reservoir for the bacteria.  The bacteria do not have the ability to penetrate unbroken or normal healthy skin.  Greasy heel in horses can be quite painful as the infection generally occurs in the fetlock and pastern area.

Prolonged wet and muddy conditions are favourable conditions for these bacteria.  Skin that is cracked, cut, bleeding, open in any way or overly soft will invite the bacteria in. Upon entry, the bacteria proliferate and infect the area, causing painful inflammation, lesions and scabs.  Small scabs can form under the hair; the scabs can become pussy and hair loss is rare but can occur.

For horses with frequently wet legs (including sweat) use drying agents such as mineral salts and methylated spirits to keep the legs dry.  Try to keep the legs dry by wrapping them with waterproof material such as garbage bags or cling wrap to minimise moisture absorption into the skin.  By keeping the skin strong and whole it acts as a protective barrier against bacteria such as that causing greasy heel.

If possible allow your horse to stay in dry bedding overnight and intermittently throughout the day to allow the skin to dry out.  White socks and white-skinned areas become infected easily and more seriously than other areas due to the sensitive nature of the pale skin.

Often minor infections may heal in their own time if the skin has enough time to dry out, however previously affected horses are known to be re-infected easily.   The lesions should be soaked to soften and gently removed.  Apply a quality topical ointment to the affected area.  Lightly wrap the affected area and reapply the ointment daily, ensuring the bandage breathes to minimise sweating.

 

Rain Scald

Rain scald is caused by bacteria and usually occurs during high rainfall events. Treat with a medicated shampoo and a quality topical ointment. Caution: Rain scald is contagious and can be spread by sharing rugs, halters and grooming tools.

 


 

Cuts and Abrasions

Winter is a period of thunderstorms and lightning severely spooking horses in paddocks or stables.  Minor cuts and abrasions are therefore very common at this time. As with greasy heel, the open skin provides an opportunity for bacteria to enter. If left unattended, infection could occur causing pain and discomfort to the area. This can be avoided by applying a quality topical ointment to the cleaned wound at the first opportunity.

 

Solution? Use QuikHEAL

QuikHEAL has highly effective anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, meaning that it is ideal to apply for infections such as greasy heel and rain scald, as well as cuts, dermatitis, girth gall, saddle sores and ringworm.