The Big Wet and How to Manage Your Horse's Health

by Antoinette Foster Equine Dip. Nut. Nutritional Therapist and Medical Herbalist ©2013

The wet weather can cause a number of problems with horses, paddocks will stay wet for some time after heavy rains even when there has been a slow down in the rain and sunny days. Many soils will retain high levels of water and this can present a serious risk for the horse’s health. Even if horses are shod they need to be protected from diseases and problems related to standing in mud.

There are a number of conditions that can result from consistent wet weather these include seedy toe, Greasy heel and mud fever.

Horses standing in water for a number of days will increase the risk of these conditions. It is very important to try to prevent these conditions from occurring.  It is highly recommended to bring you horse out of the paddock daily and clean the hooves and then apply a good quality dressing on the bottom of the feet and the hoof itself. I find that effax is a very good hoof product, but if you are already using something similar that is fine, providing it offers some form of protection from the dampness, in other words a product that can repel the water.

Make sure you clean the hoof properly so that there is no dirt left and wipe clean with a towel. In the wet weather it is essential that you clean right down to the sole of the hoof that way you can see if there is any damage.

A small scrubbing brush would be useful also, just remember if you don’t clean the hoof every day your horse will possibly end up with seedy toe

If you locate white line, this can mean the start of an infection, but if you take about 2mm off and protect with a good water proof hoof dressing you should reduce the risk of seedy toe. Seedy toe is the separation of the hoof tissue from the sole of the hoof which is called the white line or laminar. If an infection did take hold this can reach to the coronet band and that will not be a great outcome, your horse could also become sore.

Horses that have white feet tend to be a little more susceptible to greasy heal, however any horse can develop greasy heal in wet weather.

The other problem can be swelling in the legs due to lack of exercise. When there is lack of movement and muscle contraction, it can affect the venous and lymphtic system leading to a build-up of fluid in the venous system and a decrease in lymphatic drainage resulting in excess fluid in the subcutaneous tissues of the leg. These swellings are generally quite mild and do not appear to cause pain. Keeping horses moving is the ideal situation, this means taking you horse out for regular walks or exercise under saddle. Light work should be sufficient to reduce the swelling, however there are some excellent natural products that can assist the venous and lymphatic system and reduce swelling.

The final and almost certainly the most important, is nutrition and avoiding digestive disorders. Feeding a diet that contains plenty of roughage is ideal, no soaking of hays or hard feeds, horses have teeth for a reason and plenty of roughage is healthy for the digestive system. However when horses are located in wet areas with poor pasture there are a number of problems associated with this. Horses grazing some tropical grasses for extended periods can suffer `Big Head' disease or Osteodystrophia fibrosa. These grasses are buffel grass, green panic, setaria, kikuyu, guinea grass, para grass, pangola grass and signal grass. The cause of the problem is a high level of oxalates. Calcium oxalate is insoluble and unavailable to the horse. There needs to be more calcium than oxalate in the pasture for the calcium to be available. This is where supplementing becomes vital to the horse, but this means the correct formula, which is balanced and assists the uptake of minerals vital to the horses health including calcium and magnesium.

Some horses can also lose weight in wet weather due to the poor nutritional value of grasses, feeding a good balanced ration is essential to maintain a good body condition

Prevention is far better than waiting for things to go wrong. Feeding good quality lucerne hay can be of great benefit due to its excellent level of calcium and overall nutritional analysis.

Keeping an area fenced off is also ideal so you have somewhere to bring your horse to when all the other areas are muddy and water logged. A good quality high roughage hard feed is essential and during very wet weather it is also worth considering using a really good pro and pre-biotic such as BioEquus, a product such as this will reduce the risk of digestive disorders such as diarrhoea etc. Horses in water logged area tend to ingest a higher level of water and this can be unhealthy. Make sure when you feed you horse in water logged areas that you have you feeders on the ground, this is the normal way for horses to eat, but I recommend investing in a thick piece of rubber matting to reduce the ingestion of excess water including stagnant water and mud. Rubber matting can be easily hosed off each day if necessary. Rubber matting can also be used under hay nets or you can place the hay straight down on the matt. If you are using haynets don’t have them too high.

Make sure if possible that you horse has shelter so he or she can be out of the rain and have somewhere dry even if only for short relief.

I hope these tips have been helpful and if your require any further advice or information on feeding please contact me or 03 97756422