Are you dealing with muddy pastures or the upcoming promise of seasonal rains?  Let’s review some of the most common horse hoof problems caused by mud and rain, and keep our horses safe and healthy.

horse hoof problems mud

Horse hoof problems are often caused by muddy pasture conditions!

Warm summer days are often cooled off by reoccurring autumn rain showers. While we often enjoy the refreshing rainfall, it leaves behind a problem that all horse owners must face: muddy pastures. Not only does mud make riding your horse a bit more risky, it can also affect our horses’ health in several ways. This article, 5 Horse Hoof Problems Caused by Mud, will be the first of a four-series segment to help horse riders prevent and cope with mud related problems.

Mud is definitely a challenge but horse lovers find many different ways to handle it and protect their horses.  In frequent muddy conditions, a horse is more likely to bruise the soles of their hoof, lose their horse shoes, develop thrush, get bacterial infections, and become infected with White Line Disease. It is impossible to remove all the mud from your horses’ surroundings, so learning how to deal with it will put your muddy worries at ease.

  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. Horses can receive bruises from stepping on rocks, executing a hard landing, or experiencing sudden change of surfaces. Flat-footed horses are more likely to suffer from bruises because their soles come in closer contact with the ground than others. If your horse starts favoring a certain foot or showing lameness, it is possible bruising has occurred. It can be hard to diagnose a bruising issue, however, because a bruise may not appear for a few days, if it shows at all. This visual factor depends on the thickness of the sole’s tissue. A horse who has recently had its hoof trimmed too short may be at risk for bruising, also, since it the new trim will rest on the ground more than usual. Likewise, an improper shoeing or an ill fitted show will also make it more likely for if a horse has had its shoes put on improperly, it can also acquire bruises more easily.
    If a horse does contract a bruise, put the injured foot in a bucket of ice water. This will help the swelling go down and start the healing process. Picking the horse’s hooves daily and keeping them dry is the best preventive measure for bruises. In addition, cleaning out their stall regularly helps limit the mud they come in contact with. Solid, consistent footing is also key to ensure less injuries for both you and your horse. Bell boots and horse shoes can give the horse more traction so they will be able to control their strides through the mud. However; many horse owners struggle with losing horse shoes to muddy puddles.
  2. Lost Shoes - It is devastating when your horse comes in missing a shoe, and even more so when that shoe is sinking deeper and deeper into a mud puddle. The chances of finding and rescuing the shoe can be slim to none. Many horse owners may wonder how this can happen. Occasionally, the farrier could hold part of the blame for this mishap, but the true culprit is more often the slippery mud or other bad terrain conditions.
    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. This unfortunate accident causes the horse shoe to vanish beneath the pile of mud in which it was stuck.
    To avoid this situation losing horse shoes in the mud, you can let your horse go barefoot during the muddy times of the year. Another option is to fit your horse with rim shoes to increase their traction, so they do not slip in the mud as easily. Avoiding slips and falls is important is as important as avoiding the bacteria that thrive in the mud.
  3. horse hoof problems

    A boot can help protect an abscess from dirty conditions while it’s healing.

    Abscesses – Abscesses are a prime example of  horse hoof problems caused by bacterial infections found in wet or muddy areas. 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. Heavier, small-footed horses are more likely to obtain abscesses because their hooves are closer to the ground and therefore, irritated more often.
    To properly deal with a bacterial infection in the hoof, the abscess will need to release the built-up pus that is trapped. Some abscesses may burst on their own. If they do not, then you will need to drain it yourself by making a small hole in the hoof. After the abscess has been properly emptied, it is advised to use a poultice-pad bandage to protect the foot until it is fully recovered. If you cannot get a vet out to take care of the abscess, you can create your own bandage using Epsom salts and an appropriately sized pad and wrap.
    To prevent abscesses from occurring, schedule a regular farrier to come and care for your horse’s feet. Using hoof hardeners will make your horse have stronger feet which will protect against abscesses. Try using shavings in the stalls to give your horse a dry area to stand in. Abscesses may seem scary but can be easily treated if caught soon enough.

  4. White Line Disease – Another one of the common horse hoof problems caused by mud and rainy environments is White Line Disease. Haven’t heard of it?  There is a reason why.  According to Horse.com, the name White Line Disease was first coined in 1990, and the disorder is also known as seedy toe, hoof or stall rot, hollow foot, yeast infection, Candida, wall thrush, and (incorrectly) onychomycosis.  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.
    White line disease can come from a previous foot injury that has not healed completely or, if a horse is left with a long toe, it will be at risk since the hoof wall is weaker. This condition, which appears white and crumbly around the outer area of the horse’s hoof, can also lead to lameness if left untreated for a significant amount of time. If a horse is infected with this disease, have a well-trained farrier or vet trim the infected hoof wall to expose the bacteria to oxygen. It is important to also clean the hoof thoroughly after completing this action. It may be beneficial to issue your horse a supportive shoe while the infected area restores itself. This disease can be kept at bay if the horse’s stall and feet are well maintained. Our next bacterial condition, known as thrush, can also be avoided by these clean habits.
  5. Thrush – Prospering in wet, mucky conditions, thrush is a common hoof problem seen this time of year. 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. While cleaning out their hooves, take notice of the condition of the hooves and any changes of their color that may occur. Horses with high set, deep heels are more likely to contract this infection because the mud can get lodged deeper in their hooves.
    To treat thrush in horses, apply your preferred commercial medication to the infected area. Moving the horse to a dry, clean environment will help with the healing process as well. To prevent this from happening to your horses, pick their feet daily, before and after riding. However, be careful while cleaning around the frog and do not be too aggressive with the pick.

With these careful tips we can be confident that the muddy ground doesn’t have to ruin our fun; it just means both you and your horse need to be a bit more careful.

The slippery mud can bring up concerning hoof problems for our horses. Thankfully, with regular hoof care these issues can be kept under control. Picking out your horse’s hooves is a must to maintain a healthy foot. Cleaning the horse’s stall is also needed to give the horse a nice and dry area. Although risks are higher during muddy circumstances, they can be minimized with a little extra effort and knowledge. The little extra effort is certainly worth it to keep our horses strong and healthy.