By JAMES HARRIS
Unless you’re a hardcore rider that saddles up even it’s raining sideways, you will take a look out of the window at the torrents of wind, rain, and snow and think about giving your horse a brush rather than a hack out into the unknown – it’s nothing to be ashamed about; we all do it.
This little intro probably rings true with a lot of riders, giving the wet winter months a miss as far as saddle time and obviously, events. So what has giving your horse a break and keeping them all snug during the winter months got to do with health?
From experience and a particularly bad period during which my wife and I moved our two horses to an entirely different property, we started to notice how a horse’s environment (or change of) affects their health, predominantly their hooves and the perpetual vicious circle we experienced trying to cure the ill effects from a change in environment.
Ironically, our winter troubles started because of a hot summer – despite using a track system, our horses were free to chomp on sugar-rich grass, which led to laminitis. We quickly learnt our new area was prone to sugar-rich rich grass over the costal land we came from.
Not being one to entirely trust a phone app, it did get to a point where we downloaded one specifically for laminitis and the results only backed up what we’d heard from our equine podiatrist.
So with this in mind, we fought off and treated the laminitis through the summer, but because the horse’s white line had deteriorated and the weather took a turn for the worst, we battled a series of abscesses.
For a horse to maintain a healthy hoof, he needs to exercise, work and put pressure through his hooves, but because of water-logged fields, abscesses and the combination of deteriorating white line and loose gravel roads, we faced this vicious circle I mentioned – if we’d caught the laminitis earlier, we may have avoided all the problems that followed.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but with all the above taken on board, here are 5 hacks I’d recommend during the cold and wet months to maintain optimal equine health.
Whether your horse is 100% fit or hopping lame, varying degrees of exercise will help your horse maintain some sort of health and fitness, whether it’s general fitness or healthy hooves and joints.
Despite our horses suffering laminitis and abscesses, exercise was still vital. Even a gentle amble up and down a lane or road will both help you visually pick up on problem(s) and the speed in which the problem(s) subside or get worse. Gentle exercise also provides the equine digit with much-needed movement and internal pressures, all of which contribute towards healing and growth.
2. Sole Cleanse
This antimicrobial Sole Cleanse hoof spray played a vital role in at least keeping germs and the threat of infection at bay. Because our horses’ hooves experienced a series of abscesses, liberally spraying this after picking out and treating gives you peace of mind you are managing the potential for those germs that find cracks, crevices (and in our case) gaps in the white line.
Even if your horses’ hooves are healthy, Sole Cleanse is good to spray on to maintain health in both the horny outer layers and preventing fungal growth or thrush on the softer tissues like the frog.
3. Epson Salts
Salts are a great way to soak a horse’s hoof to both clean and soften any bad tissues infected, as in our case, abscesses. Adding Epson Salts to warm/hot water and soaking the horse’s hoof for 20 – 30 minutes softens infected tissue – giving our horses a walk afterwards sometimes helped tease out any infection and pus.
Epson Salts can also be fed to a horse (25-gms per 100-KG bodyweight) as a temporary magnesium supplement for laminitis and pollen allergies.
4. Hoof Stuff
Like the Sole Cleanse, Hoof Stuff is an antimicrobial product. Once an infected or cracked hoof has been suitably cleaned out and treated, this thick paste can be pushed into any cracks and crevices, preventing further intruding infection. We found packing this into a treated hoof was both satisfying and also gave peace of mind concerning any dirt getting back into any infected areas.
Most horse owners understand the fundamental biology behind their animals, but believe it or not, the equine digit is a highly complex piece of kit. After listening to our podiatrist and spending hours on google, I quickly established the internal combustion engine was more basic than the internal
functions of a horse’s hoof.
Because the hoof often holds the answer to many other aspects of a horse’s health (environmental changes, malnutrition, skeletal problems and even psychological disorders), understanding the equine digits’ components and functions will open a door to a whole new way of questioning any potential problems.
Whether all of the above is old hat to seasoned owner or it’s all fascinating to the newbie owner, I hope these winter hacks prevent or intercept an ailment before it gets out of hand like it did for my wife and I.