After last weeks post about windgalls I was trying to remember the other “seats of lameness” we learnt in college.
The two with the most memorable names, and the most difficult areas to treat on the horse.
A couple of years after college I managed to impress an instructor with the words fistulous withers when we were treating a horse with a rug rub.
It’s quite common in riding schools really, you get to the end of a busy Sunday and you pick up Fred’s blue rug. Only to find it’s actually Frodo’s blue rug and six inches too short. Frodo has already been turned out, apparently in a ball dress whilst Fred is left to wear a mini skirt.
Two days later and Fred has a rub on his withers from the rug. Now this is were problems arise, the withers are a difficult area to treat as there is a lot of movement, so you can’t keep a poultice on easily. Additionally, it is the top of the horse, which means that infection cannot be drawn out by gravity, as is the case of foot abscesses. Then you have the problem of rugs and tack rubbing on the already sore spot, and preventing it from healing. Ill-fitting tack is also a cause for fistulous withers.
So how do you treat fistulous withers? In truth, with difficulty. The best thing is prevention: get tack checked regularly, have good fitting rugs, monitor the area closely. Older horses with poor backs, or high withered horses are more prone to fistulous withers. Once discovered, clip away any hair so it can be treated more easily. If the horse can go rugless then do, don’t ride if they are uncomfortable in tack, and then clean the wound and treat like any other. If it does get infected then you could hot poultice and just hold it on for ten minutes or so to help draw infection out. Antibiotics are a possibility to help it heal, but that should be on the vets advice. Some people put cream on the wounds, but I tend to think they are best left open so they can dry and scan over. However if you were turning out or something then it would be wise to provide some sort of barrier.
Now, onto the poll. A similar rub or injury can happen here as the withers. This is called poll evil, as it is notoriously difficult to treat and heal. The injury can be obtained from a knock to the head, in the stable or trailer, or a badly fitting field headcollar. Treatment is very similar to fistulous withers.
Personally I haven’t had any experience of poll evil, but I’ve seen plenty of rubs on the withers which are caught in the nick of time before getting infected.