Homemade Horse Care Remedies

It's said they can heal injuries, repel flies and make your horse's coat glossy. But are homemade remedies reliable--or are they recipes for disaster? We'll look at some homemade horse care remedies and see how effective they are.

Illustration by Michael Witte

You've tried everything to treat your horse's case of scratches. But he's still sore--and you're frustrated. A friend mentions a home remedy she's used with success, and you're tempted. It can't hurt, right?

It may not. It may even bring your horse relief. But it could also make the symptoms worse and create a whole new set of problems. We'll take a look at 10 horse care situations where homemade remedies were used, and Horse & Rider contributing editor and veterinarian Karen Hayes will explain why the remedy might be effective (or not) and offer some options and advice for treatment. We'll also look at remedies that have been used for generations ("Tried and True," below), and offer some words of warning for common horse treatments ("Proceed with Caution," below). And, just for a glimpse at how far horse care has come, we'll dust off some of the old (and outrageous) remedies horsemen cooked up as cures ("Don't Try This at Home,"below).

As always, check with your vet for diagnosis and treatment, and ask her before trying any homemade remedy.

Problem: Sarah's 16-year-old Quarter Horse, Wisk, isn't breaking a sweat, even in the dead heat of summer. The vet says he has anhidrosis, a condition characterized by a horse's inability to sweat in response to exercise or increased body temperature. Unable to cool himself, he's not only uncomfortable, but his health is compromised.
Reader Remedy: A friend suggests pouring a pint of Guinness beer in his grain ration once a day during the summer. It's an old racetrack remedy she says helps him pop a sweat.
Vet's View: It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. Although there's no scientifically proven treatment for anhidrosis, there are anecdotal accounts of up to 80 percent "cure" when affected horses are given supplemental vitamin C and one or more of the B-vitamins.While the more refined, filtered beers tend to have less of these vitamins, the more robust, stout beers such as Guinness contain decent levels of these and other nutrients. However, equivalent "cures" have been reported when anhidrotic horses are simply protected from hot/humid conditions for at least a month, and are either given the month off from exercise or worked only at night during the break. So, should you give your horse a cold one, or a cool break from the heat and humidity? I'd start with the break. And, if he'll drink the beer, I suppose it can't hurt... as long as it's in moderation.


Rain Rot
Problem: A few hours after Lynn brought her Paint gelding, Ty, in from the rain, she noticed his hair began to stand up in a pattern in one area, and the area felt warm. He also seemed sensitive to touch. The next day, sensitive scabs appeared and Lynn realized he has rain rot--a skin condition caused by Dermatophilus spp., bacteria commonly present on a horse's hair coat. Rain, followed by humid conditions, enables the organism to multiply,which irritates the hair follicles and skin of afflicted horses.
Reader Remedy: Her trainer suggests a homemade cure of equal parts Listerine and baby oil. Lynn rubs the concoction onto the affected areas and it seems to help.
Vet's View: In my opinion, that recipe is on the right track, but it could use a tweak. Listerine contains alcohol, which can irritate your horse's skin. The organism that causes rain rot is taking advantage of the fact that waterlogged skin is immune-compromised, and irritating that skin can make it even more vulnerable to infection. For my clients, I've recommended a milder concoction that admittedly makes a mess, but it works. Mix a 16-ounce bottle of mineral oil (baby oil is OK), a 16-ounce bottle of 3 percent USP hydrogen peroxide, and a half-ounce bottle of tincture of iodine in a bucket. Sponge it on the affected areas and let it set overnight. This will soften and lift the scabs, soothe and lubricate the skin, and kill the bug. Next day, shampoo your horse with a mild shampoo and let the area air-dry, preferably in the sun. NOTE: Don't put this concoction in a sealed container. It'll bubble up and explode.

Problem: Several weeks of spring thaw and rainy weather makes a muddy mess at the barn, and Jeri's 8-year-old Morgan, Bender, seems to actually like standing up to his fetlocks in the muddiest spot in the pasture. When she brings him in to clean him up, she notices he's a little sore, and has scabby, cracked areas near his heels. Her vet diagnoses scratches (AKA greasy heel, cracked heel, or foot rot), an equine bacterial infection.
Reader Remedy: Another rider at the barn tells Jeri about a remedy that worked on her horse--and one that was only as far as the grocery store: sauerkraut. She applies the deli concoction onto the affected area, wraps it with plastic wrap, and leaves it on overnight. The next day she washes the leg, dries it thoroughly, and repeats for several days.
Vet'sView: I'd rather see the sauerkraut on a Reuben sandwich, but I can understand why this weird treatment might work: The high vinegar content in sauerkraut helps the skin attain a lower pH (more acidic), which is generally a healthier state for skin. A slightly acidic environment is also inhospitable for various fungal organisms. Still, it's highly unlikely that a true case of scratches would respond quickly to this treatment. Scratches is known to be a stubborn, chronic condition that is tough to beat with any therapy. I'd focus my energy on getting the horse on high, dry ground so his skin isn't forced to defend itself while waterlogged and filthy.

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