Yep - it's spring, which means that I've started suspiciously inspecting my horse for "funky" spots. Funks can include (with descriptions borrowed from The Horse - best site ever for reference!)
Scratches: Breaks in the skin lead to bacterial and/or fungal causing scaly patches, hair loss, and inflammation on the legs called scratches (aka grease heel or mud fever). Causes include contact allergies and irritants, infestation with Chorioptes mites (leg mange), and malformations with the lymphatic vessels, etc. Secondary infections are often worsened by exposure to moisture in mud or pastures. Draft breeds and other horses with feathered legs might be most susceptible.
Rain Rot: Also known as rain scold or dermatophilosis, rain rot is skin disease caused by the opportunistic bacterium Dermatophilus congolesis, which thrives in moist conditions and enters through damaged skin (think bites or chaffing). Rain rot is usually evident over the horse’s neck, back, and croup, but can also spread to the legs. The skin crusts and raised tufts of serum-matted hair, called paintbrush lesions, form. The tufts usually shed, leaving hairless patches. Rain rot is contagious.
Hives: Hives are round, raised wheals over the body that cause the hair to stand up. They can range from the size of a nickel to several inches in diameter and can cover part or most of the body. A breakout of hives is usually related to air-borne allergens (e.g., tree, bush, weed, or grass pollen; mold; dust; etc.); ingested allergens (e.g., feed ingredients); or vaccination or medication reactions. A breakout usually isn’t painful but might itch.
Other ailments include warts, ringworm and sweet itch. The above three are the ones I have experience with, so I'm going to stick with what I know. As per always, please contact your vet with your concerns - I'm not one!
Click to hop over to my (rather long, sorry for the novel) list of tips and tricks!
For Scratches, which I've been lucky enough to avoid, but I've seen a lot of. Mostly in horses with white feet who play hard or stand in mud all day, Scratches are persistent and painful to your horse. First things first, if you're concerned about scratches or your horse has them, it's time to get the clippers out. I go after the backs of Foxie's legs in the spring time with my clippers and a 15 or 30 blade and take down all the feather, and most of the hair down the back of the fetlock to the heels. Your horse's legs will stay cleaner, and will be easier to wipe down with a towel when you bring them in. Just remember, your horse may be more prone to irritation from things like bell boots without some extra help (or fuzzy tops - indulge your inner Dressage Queen!).
You also need to remove the scabs and dirt. It's up to you whether you want to wet the legs to do this, or try another method, just remember that your horse is in pain, and make sure to be gentle! Also remember, wet is part of the problem, so if you can, try to do without, and make sure your horse gets dry afterwards. Use gentle soap, diluted in a good amount of water (Ivory is good!) or something like diluted betadine or iodine shampoo. Once your horse is dried off, treat with something that will kill the bachteria/fungi, reduce the pain/swelling/chapped appearance, and provide a barrier so your horse doesn't have to suffer!
My vet makes up a goop that they sell in clinic (I think it involves furazone, desitin diaper rash cream and some other stuff...) but ichthammol, straight furazone or another ointment. Then, comes another decision - to wrap or not to wrap (scratches is almost always on the legs). I've seen people vote either way, but I would make a commitment to change the bandages daily or as much as possible to keep it clean if they're outside, and continue to treat. Furazone and Ichthammol can inhibit healing at a certain point, so swapping to just desitin or another anti-chapping ointment may be good. I'm a big fan of Corona ointment because of the mineral oil and lanolin - softening and protecting - and use it on chapped skin like withers after a long winter in blankets, hooves and other areas that feel a little "crunchy".
For Rain Rot, I'm a lot more confident treating. It's not a good thing. The minute you suspect rain rot, I do the following:
- Make sure that I'm not sharing tack with anyone, and if so, get your own girth/saddle pad/etc. Rain Rot is contagious!
- Par down my grooming kit to plastic bristled brushes and one or two curries that I know I can get clean. These are the only tools I'll be using until I'm sure the rot is gone. I choose hardy plastic bristles since everything I own will be getting a bleach-dilute bath and maybe even an effervescent brush cleaning session afterwards. You will want to keep the brushes clean to prevent re-infection in the healing process, and make sure they're cleansed afterwards so you don't start the whole process back over again.
- Check my blankets for leaks, or, in the summer, talk to barn staff about leaving my horse inside when it's raining. Wet horses do not help the healing process.
The tools of my trade are: iodine shampoo, medicated shampoo, a soft curry comb (I like the ones with the long flexible silicone bristle-things), and for bad cases, furazone and a tube or three of ivermectin wormer. If your horse has a large amount of rot, or seems particularly sensitive, you may need to fight it from the inside with antibiotics (so, a cell phone to call your vet. Mine even lets us email them pics.)
First things first - decontamination bath! Wet all of the horse, lather up with way more shampoo than you'd prefer (I even curry it in gently if my horse will let me) let sit (ten minutes or so), and vigorously wet/sweat scrape your horse until the water is clear. You'll feel like a groom in the vet box at rolex with all of the rinsing and scraping, but medicated shampoos can irritate skin if left on and you want to get as much of the "funk" off your horse. I try to get as many scabs off as I can (I suggest bribing with food, and be GENTLE!) and then get them dry.
If your horse has a big chunk come off, I apply furazone (which cuts off the air to the "funk" and helps it heal and grow new skin) for the first day or two until it doesn't look so raw. If you have a patch that doesn't want to come off or is especially dense - I also do this when we're in the final days and are down to a spot or two - I get out my ivermectin and GLOVES (believe me you don't want that in your body.) and apply. Sometimes it stings or really bothers your horse so use as a last resort - mine is fine with it, but she doesn't tolerate DMSO, so every horse is different.
Yeee. Don't ride on top of them, please. They're usually sensitive and your horse won't like it! They can get hives from bugs, from allergies or just because they feel like it (ok, maybe I'm a bit sarcastic.). I've seen hives from early bug season and also had the joy of discovering that Wisconsin mosquitoes are NOT the same as Minnesota mosquitoes and my mare was swollen down her crest and very stiff and unhappy for her first eventing horse show.
If they seem to be from bugs, (and you're not at a show) I will treat with hydro-cortisone cream and try to make some changes to my routine - different fly spray, maybe a sheet or a neck cover... something that I'm doing isn't working, so I need to help my girl out!
If your horse has bad hives, I would call a vet. I keep Benadryl - human pink tab kind - in my med kit after I had a run in with a wasps nest, and my field vet at the time couldn't get to us fast, so he said give the horse 6 tabs and it seemed to really help. I've used benadryl since for hives and to take the edge off The Fox when she went out to paddock rest after 6 weeks of stall rest with a partially healed suspensory injury. I know people who travel with Dex (an inject-able, vet prescribed med) for horses who are sensitive to things like foreign shavings and other show stimuli. Make sure to know the rules of the show - sometimes you can give meds like that with no risk, other times, you're taking the risk that you could get drug tested and fined if you compete with the drug in the horse's system.