Cracked heels, or ?greasy heel,? is a common problem for horses turned out in muddy conditions or who walk through muddy trails. It usually starts out as scabs around the back of the pastern and may increase in size, down to the cleft between the heel bulbs. When the scabs are removed, you see actual cracks in the horse's skin. It can also be an extension of thrush, and it can easily become infected.
The more quickly you react, the easier it will be to heal. If tHere's no indication of infection, meaning no odor or oozing, flush the area clean with an antiseptic like Betadine solution or the human product pHisoDerm (don't use hydrogen peroxide, as it's too harsh). Rinse with warm water and dry the area as much as possible. If your horse will tolerate it, use a hair dryer. Repeat daily until healed. Be careful not to disrupt the area or pry the cracks open, as the inflamed tissue is fragile.
Keep the area clean and dry, but don't wrap it as you'll seal in harmful moisture. Instead, apply a soothing barrier cream, such as Vaseline petroleum jelly or Corona ointment. Good softening and barrier effects can also be obtained from vitamin E creams. Continue daily treatment until the area returns to normal. See?cracked heels ointments.
If you suspect it's infected or are concerned it may become so, use an antimicrobial product daily till the cracks heal. Our accompanying chart includes products you may already have in your tack room or are readily available at your local drug store.
If your horse is prone to cracked heels (or scratches), you can help prevent the reoccurrence by using a moisture barrier product to protect the area. Corona ointment, petroleum jelly, and zinc-oxide ointment are all good choices.
Lee Foley, Contributing Farrier Editor