Hoof Maintenance – Thrush

by Keith Seeley

EWWW, what is that smell??? Have you ever asked that question while picking out your horses’ feet? Have you ever noticed a particularly vial, putrid, nasty smell and noticed this particular smell associated with a black, moist, tarry, gunky substance as you clean out the ‘trenches’ on either side of the hoof’s frog? Have you notices that your horse’ frogs look deformed or eaten away with holes, pits or even whole sections of the frog eaten away with this black gunk in it? That physical appearance, along with this particularly vial smell, tells you that your horse has thrush. ‘OH NO!, My horse has THRUSH??’ If you smell something like I’ve just described, chances are Old Thunder has thrush. Is it contagious? Will my other horses get it? And will it hurt my horse? If you’re a true horse owner, been around horses for a long time and have cleaned your horses feet out on a regular basis, chances are you know what thrush is and you likely know the answers to these questions. If not, keep reading. I’ll try to answer your questions and hopefully arm you with enough information to address this problem.

Thrush typically affects the frog the most. It is possible to get thrush in underlying areas of the sole and in the white line region of the ground surface of the foot. Thrush typically affects horses with feet that are not perfectly healthy, or horses that have to stand in mucky, bacteria-laden areas, such as around stagnant water holes that have a lot of manure and urine in it. It is also very prevalent in dark, dank, nasty stalls. These are just a couple of the more common situations that make it easier for your horse to get thrush.

Thrush is pretty much nothing more than a maintenance issue, brought on by poor environmental conditions, but can be affected due to conformation problems as well. What this means is, your horse is a lot less likely to get thrush if you keep you horses’ feet properly trimmed or shod, keep him nutritionally healthy and kept his feet reasonably dry and debris free, all the while, having his feet regularly tended to by a certified farrier. This is no guarantee that your horse won’t get thrush, but it sure greatly reduces the chances. The bottom line is, if your horse has a sound, healthy foot inside AND out, if he is able to move around in good pasture or paddocks, he is able to keep sound, healthy tissue growing in his feet, his body is healthy and well balanced, then thrush should not be a problem. Sound healthy horses have been noted to stand in some pretty nasty stalls and not get thrush. Conversely, horses in poor hoof or body health have been noted in wide-open areas and have advances cases of thrush. Another thing to remember is, horses who are shod year in and year out tend to be more susceptible to thrush than barefooted horses that perhaps aren’t on the best of pastures or on the best trim regiment. The difference? Well, it’s the internal health of the hoof. It’s the lack of blood flow through the hoof, resulting in less healthy tissue. Therefore, bacteria and fungus are more able to take hold. So we go back to the beginning, thrush is a maintenance issue. Maintain a sound healthy hoof and body, and the thrush will be less of a problem.

Thrush is not contagious, air or insects do not transmit it and horses can’t pass it on to another horse by eating after them or coming in contact with them. However, more than one horse in the same barn, corral or pasture can have it. It is interesting to note that even though multiple horses have the condition, not all of them have it the same way, nor will they all have it to the same degree. Each horses’ individual health and immune system, and even their conformation, will affect how much they are affected, as well as, how easy it is to get rid of. Depending on how often your horses’ feet are picked and cleaned and repacked with clean mud, how diligent you are about treating the feet and how long you allow your horse to live in the conditions that breed this bacteria in the first place, will depend on how much he gets and how fast it’s gotten rid of.

Thrush is not life threatening, but certainly can be detrimental to your horses’ health. It can completely eat away the entire frog, to the point that there is virtually no protection for the coffin bone. There may be no frog touching the ground to provide traction or to help push fluid throughout the foot. The horses’ frog area can begin bleeding from the slightest touch of the hoof pick, rock or stump of grass. The affects of thrush can be quite painful for your horses in more sever cases. But as long as it’s tended to regularly and diligently, the condition can be eliminated.

So what can you do to help treat thrush? First of all, one of the old tried and true methods of keeping down any bacteria and fungus in the stall, barn or pasture is to spread lime. It’s cheap and affective. As far as treating your horses’ feet once he has the condition, there are several methods. Iodine, betadine or soaking the feet in an Epsom salt bath has always been affective methods of treatment. A mild bleach solution works, too, that would be either a 10 to 1 or 10 to 2 solution. 10 parts water and 1 or 2 parts bleach. No more! You can also opt to use something like Listerine and scrub with a new stiff toothbrush, a vegetable brush or any other medium stiff bristled brush like that. There are a number of thrush treatment products on the market as well. But be careful when using any of these chemicals. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you like the natural approach to curing problems, there are a number of holistic products on the market. Even Apple Cider Vinegar is natural and is a natural anti-biotic substance. Check out the Internet for what might be available. I have some personal preferences, but I’m not pushing products here. Whenever in doubt, please seek the advice and guidance of a certified farrier. They can advise you as to which product(s) to use, what the frequency of treatment should be, and how long to continue the treatment. Just like the warnings you hear on TV concerning any medicine, please consult your doctor before using what ever that product is. Well, in this case, your farrier IS your doctor. They will be happy to assist you.

Should you have any problems or questions, please contact me. I’ll be happy to assist you.

I hope this article has been helpful to you. Please be kind to your horse and Happy Trails..

Keith