Thrush stinks, no question. That smelly black goo around the edge of the frog is a common infection that takes root in the soft tissues on the underside of the hoof. Thrush is usually not debilitating when treated promptly, but it can take diligence to get a stubborn case under control, especially in seasons when the turnout areas stay wet and mucky for weeks.
It's far better to prevent thrush from taking hold in the first place, and that means minimizing the three conditions the infection needs to thrive: constant moisture, an anaerobic environment, and the presence of fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. Here are some specific steps to take:
- Provide dry footing. If your turnout areas are constantly wet, bring horses into a barn periodically to give their hooves a chance to dry out. Providing dry run-in sheds and spreading areas of gravel in wet paddocks also allow horses to escape soggy footing.
- Keep stalls and paddocks clean. Manure and urine foster the growth of pathogens. Muck stalls and small turnouts daily.
- Pick out your horse's feet regularly. Horses who live in larger pastures probably won't require daily attention, but do check their hooves at least once a week to make sure no problems are developing.
- Stick to a farriery schedule. Horses with hoof imbalances and lameness issues are at higher risk for thrush. Regular farrier visits will help keep your horse's feet healthy and sound.
- Take more care with acidic footing. Chipped or shredded wood is a common choice for bedding in some areas of the country, but some trees, especially conifers, tend to be acidic. When these materials decompose in wet paddocks, they can change the pH of the soil and foster the growth of bacteria that cause thrush as well as abscesses. If you use these materials, be extra vigilant in monitoring the health of your horse's feet.
- Make sure your horse gets plenty of exercise. With every step a horse takes, his hooves expand and contract. This constant flexing pushes out dirt and debris. Horses who stand for long periods in manure-laden footing are more likely to develop thrush. If regular turnout is not an option, hand-walking or riding the horse over dry ground will help clean his feet.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #425.