My horse has an ongoing problem with thrush, even though I clean and medicate his feet daily, and the paddock he lives in isn’t usually wet. Is there anything more I can do about this?

It sounds like you are being conscientious in fighting your horse’s thrush issue, but there may indeed be other aspects that could make a difference.

The fact that your horse’s paddock isn’t typically wet is good, but some horses are prone to thrush, regardless of their environment. While many factors can influence this, the bottom line is that healthy, correctly functioning hooves that get plenty of movement in a clean environment (wet or dry) are likely to remain thrush free. Let’s take a closer look at that statement, as it contains all the parts that make a horse more or less vulnerable to thrush:

  • A healthy hoof is one that has good balance, strong walls and thick soles, and is not suffering from contraction, metabolic distress, mineral deficiencies, or any other issues that can compromise the foot (and especially the frog), making it more vulnerable to infection.
  • A correctly functioning hoof, in this context, means the foot is able to flex as nature intended, which allows the sole to pop out packed in material that is likely to harbor harmful bacteria. It also means that the foot is not peripherally loaded (trimmed or shod so that only the walls are weight-bearing), as peripheral loading takes the frog out of its role as the “landing pad” of the foot, leading to atrophy, disfunction and, too often, to disease.
  • A hoof that gets plenty of movement is much more likely to pop out built up muck, and it is also going to have better circulation and be more robust overall, making it more resistant to disease.
  • A clean environment is one in which the horse is not forced to continually walk or stand in manure and urine. Continual exposure to these substances is damaging to the hoof, and especially to the tissues of the frog, where it creates fissures that give bacteria easy entry.

Clearly, keeping thrush at bay requires multiple considerations. With your horse’s history, it is especially important to ensure that his feet are healthy and functioning well. Contracted feet, in particular, are highly vulnerable to thrush. You might also want to reexamine your horse’s diet. As you may have read in this issue, nutrition plays a very important role in hoof health. While many people are aware of this in relation to laminitis, it is not well known that diet can be a contributing factor in many cases of thrush. This is particularly true when the infection seems to linger endlessly, as it has with your horse. Diets high in sugars and starches are the most likely culprit, but unbalanced mineral uptake can also be a problem. Either of these dietary issues can make treating thrush a truly uphill battle in some susceptible horses.

You might want to try cutting down on the “quick” carbohydrates in your horse’s diet to see if that helps. Remember that quick carbs can come from anything containing sugar or grain, as well as things like apples and carrots. Hay and grass can also be high in sugar or starch depending on various factors such as species, growing conditions, hours of sunlight and more. Feeding tested, low-carb hay is the best way to make sure the forage portion of your horse’s diet is what you are looking for. If you do adjust his diet, give the new program at least a few months, as it takes the body some time to heal from the effects of a carb-heavy or imbalanced diet. People are often pleasantly surprised and greatly relieved to find that something as simple as cutting out grain and getting their horse on a low-carb hay got rid of the chronic thrush they battled for so long. We hope this helps in your horse’s case!

Susan Kauffmann is the lead author of The Essential Hoof Book: The Complete Modern Guide to Horse Feet. She has also been an equestrian journalist, educator and trainer for over three decades.

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