Rain Scald

I saw a horse earlier this week with rain scald, so I thought it was a very topical subject for the time of year.

So what is rain scald?

Rain scald, or rain rot, is a very common skin ailment of horses which predominantly affects the back of the horse. Like mud fever, the bacteria which cause rain scald thrive in warm, moist conditions which means the disease is more prevalent in spring and autumn.

The actinomycete, dermatophilus congolensis, has properties of both fungi and bacteria and causes the disease rain scald. This organism lives on the horses skin, not in the ground as is often believed, but a horse who is carrying the organism will not necessarily suffer from rain scald.

What does rain scald look like?

The horse will suffer from numerous scabs along his top line, varying in size from a pea sized to a two pence size, and can be crusty. The scabs and embedded hair can be easily picked off, revealing pink skin and often pus underneath. The scabs usually heal rapidly, turning grey and drying up.

Rain scald can be transmitted between horses by sharing rugs, saddle cloths or grooming brushes, so infected horses need to be carefully managed and the horse isolated as best as possible.

Horses suffering from rain scald will usually have thick coats, such as those going into winter as they retain a high level of moisture close to their skin. A cut or scratch allows the organism to enter the horse`s epidermis and thus the scabs form.

Putting a warm rug on a sweaty or wet horse provides the ideal conditions for rain scald to occur, or over rugging a horse so that they sweat. Some people suggest that poor stable management, or damp walls, can be a contributing factor.

Rain rot may go away on it`s own accord, when the horse moults and loses their winter coat, but there is a high risk of secondary infection so it should be treated immediately as the secondary infection will be harder to treat and more resistant.

To treat rain scald the scabs need to be removed gently. Baby oil is a useful tool for softening the scabs and making them less painful to remove. As the organism grows best in an oxygen reduced environment opening the scabs and removing the thick hair around them will oxygenate the area and promote healing. Ointments aren`t recommended for use as they hold moisture close to the skin, but it is beneficial to wash the affected areas thoroughly with an anti-bacterial shampoo, and drying the area carefully afterwards, and keeping the horse in a dry, well ventilated environment. In severe cases a course of antibiotics may be required.




I heard from a friend who I haven’t seen for a while that there has been a few cases of strangles in the area.

For those of you who don’t know what strangles is, it’s a respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi, that is highly contagious.
Strangles can be fatal, but it’s primary cause for concern is the speed at which it spreads around a yard or area, particularly in enclosed stable settings.

Symptoms of strangles include fever, nasal discharge and depression initially, with the horse losing their appetite. Typically, the temperature rises to 41°C. After a few days lymph nodes around the throat swell, forming abscesses. The horse can have difficulty breathing and swallowing (hence the name ‘strangles’). A nasal discharge is at first clear and then becomes purulent after the abscesses have ruptured in the nasal passages. Sometimes the vet surgically opens the abscesses to help breathing, but at a risk of further infection. Ruptured abscesses shed highly infective pus into the environment, which can infect other horses.

Strangles is usually diagnosed quite easily by the fever, depression, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and swollen lymph nodes. Swabs or blood tests are then taken to confirm the presence of Streptococcus equi. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed the yard is isolated until the outbreak ends – this is usually three weeks after a complete set of clear swabs as the bacteria can harbour in the guttural pouch and the symptoms not appear for up to two weeks. In the cases I was told about it is thought that the ponies have had dormant bacteria in their system for about a month, and one is suspected to be a carrier.

Strangles spreads by direct or indirect contact – be it sharing a water trough, tack, clothes, buckets, hands, which is why it is very important to isolate sick animals immediately and have a strict isolation procedure.

Treatment varies from case to case, but usually involves keeping the abscesses meticulously clean by flushing them out several times a day, antibiotics if necessary, supportive stable care – keeping the horse on box rest with a warm deep bed, rugs, palatable food and clean water. The risk of further infection once the abscesses have burst is very high, which is why good hygiene is so important. Occasionally horses can develop abscesses in other body organs, which is very rare and usually fatal.

A complication of strangles is that some horses can “carry” the disease after they have been ill with no outward clinical signs, which means that stopping the spread of the disease is very difficult. It does highlight the importance of having a good isolation procedure for new horses on a yard though. Once a horse has recovered from strangles there is a good chance that he is immune to the disease.

When I was about twelve our yard had a strangles outbreak. We had just come out of the foot and mouth epidemic, so were able to finally hack and compete. One of our ponies brought the disease back to the yard after a local show and a couple of weeks later it spread like wildfire. I remember we had quite a good system of isolation, in that the back stalls were kept for the horses who were ill – they were used to the herd environment so large rooms of twos or threes was ideal for them. Particularly ill horses had internal stables on their own in the old farm buildings which was linked to the stalls. All the healthy horses were then left in one big field, and only allowed to use the outside stables. Us girls were not allowed inside the strangles area, and it was a scary time. I remember the riding school was still trying to continue and my Mum volunteered my pony for the more advanced groups. It wasn’t a success. I was schooling another pony in the same lesson and my pony cantered off with his rider, dumped her, and just trotted over to me!
There were a few horses who were really sick, and there was an air of concern around the yard. Once the horses had recovered they were turned out in another big field at the other end of the land – so they couldn’t come into contact with those unaffected. My pony at the time managed to escape illness, but typically was lame for a week! That was the first time I got to ride the non-riding school horses that were excitable/psychotic/mental/crazy or just plain forwards going. I loved it!

Anyway, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of strangles, and to keep up to date with the current situation of strangles in the area. Likewise, if your horse is unlucky enough to become infected, it is sensible and very considerate to inform those necessary – the yard, farrier, neighbouring yards, and friends.

Fistulous Withers and Evil Polls

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.

Word of The Day

Warble Fly – Occasionally live in horses (cattle are the natural hosts). They are large flies resembling a bee laying their eggs on the horse’s coat and these stick to the base of the hairs. They crawl down the hair and burrow into the skin and migrate through the host’s body. In February they migrate to the bask of the host causing a swelling with a small hole through which the maggot breaths. The maggot forms a small abscess feeding on the matter. After 30 days, they leave through the hole in the skin. As horses are not the natural host, they may behave unusually, migrating to the flank or failing to break through the skin. The larvae should never be squeezed; a warm poultice will encourage them to emerge.

Homeopathy and Horses

Witch Doctors, healers, shaman. Call them what you want but they are all Homeopathists. People who use the “system for treating disease based on the administration of minute doses of a drug that in massive amounts produces symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the disease itself”.

Is it all a myth? A placebo? Or is this treatment more effective than traditional medicine? I`ve never really had an opinion about it all. When I was younger I remember a friends mother trying to treat her asthma with remedies. My friend ended up in hospital with pneumonia, which negatively tinted my view on homeopathy. My boyfriend is adamant it is a library of old wives tales. I have had an incident which leads me to think it may have some substance.

A couple of years ago we had a livery who was a homeopathy consultant, she worked alongside doctors though. She was incredibly extroverted and kind hearted, always suggesting remedies for your sniffle or spots. I tended to shrug her off non-committedly. Then, one day in August we had a cross country competition at our yard. Which I had entered. However, a few days before my horse had come in from the field with a small lump on the inside of his cannon bone. It wasn`t very big but quite squishy and with no heat or lameness. I had continued to ride him but cold hosed his leg, had put stable bandages on, and one night even tried claying his leg. Infuriatingly enough, the lump didn`t change. So I was giving his leg a quick cold hose when said bouncy-effervescent-witch-doctor appeared.
“Oh it`s a fly bite” she exclaims. “I have some Apis which will fix him” Off she skips to her car where she delves into her Mary Poppins style carpet bag and produces a little tube with a handful of small pearls in. “Put one in his water, give him one by hand and then again in quarter of an hour.” Off I trudged dutifully, if slightly dubious.
She skipped back to my stable a bit later and exclaimed “Look it`s gone!” And she was right. The lump had totally disappeared. I booted him up and rode my cross country regardless, while bouncy-effervescent-witch-doctor-lady proclaimed her amazing remedy. She gave me the rest of the pills for future use.

That afternoon, dressed in shorts, I watched the rest of the competition sat on the railings with some friends. Suddenly I slapped my leg; I was being eaten alive by a man-eating horse-fly! Now I always react badly to fly bites and it wasn`t long before my thigh swelled and went bright red and itchy.
“What about taking one of those pills?” suggested a friend jokingly.
So I did. And within ten minutes my leg was itch-free and back to normal. I couldn`t believe it.

Now I`m not saying I`m a convert and will never go to a vets ever again, but I was certainly impressed on the effect it had on my horse and me. He of course cannot succumb to the placebo effect, and I was a sceptic. I now have a couple of little tubes of remedies in my first aid kit – Apis, something for sweet itch but I can`t remember how I should use it, and then I`ve got a couple of tubes at home which were given for me to use for various ailments. I`m not convinced by their effectiveness, but I also probably didn`t administer them with the correct frequency! I`d be interested to know what experiences other people have had with homeopathy though.

More First Aid

Following on from yesterday’s post about what’s in your first aid kits, I thought it would be beneficial to share stories and experiences about wounds, rather than me write all about the ins and outs of contusions, puncture wounds, abscesses, the lot.

I’ll get us started.

The most major wound my horse has had was a rope burn. I’ll never forgive myself for letting it happen, but thankfully he has no ill effects. It was spring three years ago, and I was turning him out in his field with his pony companion. I took him, in his fly rug and mask to just outside the pony stalls. He couldn’t come in with me because the roof was a bit low, so I tied him up to the string outside. He was nosying around the floor licking up the remains of someone’s tea from last night. I went into the pony stalls and quickly began putting the fly rug on Little Man. While I was finishing the leg straps I realised my horse was itching his ear with his hind leg. Flexible! Before my eyes he managed to get his hoof over his lead rope. He started panicking, I started hurrying towards him, praying for the twine to snap. It didn’t, and when I arrived he calmed down enough for me to unclip his lead rope. Upon investigation I found a nasty rope burn around the back of his fetlock. He was most definitely lame. I could have kicked myself, I had just trimmed off all his feathers so his leg had no protection. A week later, and a course of antibiotics he was on the mend. Unfortunately it meant we missed our first one day event. Well, he did. I took a friends pony who I had never sat on before. His leg has shown no ill effects, except for randomly swelling once in a blue moon, and having a thin scar of proud flesh, which cannot be seen or felt easily due to his feathers. I investigated it last week and there isn’t as much of a line of skin as there used to be. He also doesn’t get mud fever in the area either thankfully. Has it stopped him scratching his ear with his hind leg whilst tied up? No! I don’t tie him up often, preferring to use the stable or hold him, and I definitely don’t leave him unattended!

First Aid

As per a request from my Mum here is a post about equine first aid. It took me a while to figure out where to start, as first aid is such a minefield and full of myths and old wives tales.

I thought the best place to start would be talking about what is in your first aid kit at the yard. Depending on the size of the yard or the number of horses the first aid kit will vary slightly. This list is by no means conclusive, and feel free to add any more suggestions.

My first aid kit is kept in my cupboard in a plastic lidded container. So what do I, personally, have?

– Thermometer. This is fairly obvious really, but did you know the horses temperature should be about 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.5 degrees Celsius. In theory. But you should be aware that their temperature fluctuates according to seasons, time of day, hormonal cycle and exercise. Some horses naturally run a bit cooler than others. The BHS say you should record your horses temperature for a week and use that to compare any future readings. I work on a slightly different method, and take his temperature when I remember (which isn’t as often as it should be) and record it in the notebook with the time and date. This means that I have a variety of readings, in theory covering all variations in his temperature, which I can compare to if I think he’s under the weather.

– Notebook. This is just where I jot down any illnesses or wounds and how I treated them, as well as regular vital stats readings. Obviously I also have a pen.

– Scissors. There’s nothing more infuriating than going to treat a wound and spending half an hour trying to find a pair of sharp scissors, and then upon finding them cleaning them. Pocket knives are nowhere near as good at shaping animalintex, believe me …

– Iodine spray. This has a long shelf life, so I great for the one horse owner. Can be used to treat thrush, and some wounds. I avoid using it on wet wounds as it is a liquid, for them wound powder is better as it dries them up and helps the stabbing process.

– Wound Powder. This is really useful for most cuts or grazes, you can pack the cut with powder once it’s clean and is great for stopping bleeding. However, the nozzles always get damp so the powder gets stuck. This calls for Operation Safety Pin. Once the nozzle is clear you can have great fun aiming the powder at that hard to reach cut and poofing over it. One particularly memorable incident involved a cut high up on the inside of a hind leg and a very grumpy gelding.

– Antiseptic Cream. This comes in a variety of forms, the cheapest being good old Sudocrem, although there are many equine versions. The water repellent ones are very useful for smothering cracked heels or the first signs of mud fever.

– Vaseline. Used with the thermometer, but also on split lips or any other area which needs softening.

– Weightape. Used for monitoring the weight of your horse. They aren’t as accurate as weigh bridges but are useful when used in conjunction. A lot of liveries I know use the weigh bridge annually and simultaneously measure their horses with the tape. They can then relates the tape reading to the actual weight, and can see any fluctuation through the seasons.

– Animalintex. Used for poulticing, make sure you have at least a half because there’s nothing more annoying than starting to do a hoof poultice and finding you only have enough animalintex for half the wound. You can buy hoof shaped pads, but these give you less material for more money!

– Vetwrap. Self sticking bandage, great for poulticing or covering a wound. The horse still has good mobility and the bandage is pretty secure. Comes in a variety of colours, including leopard print or zebra stripes.

– Carrier Bag. Used between the animalintex and the Vetwrap of a wet poultice to help keep the heat and moisture in, thus increasing the drawing effect.
– Duct Tape. If you don’t use it round the sole of a hoof poultice the poultice wears thin within minutes and your horse can get straw and muck into the wound. Not good.
– Cotton Wool. Obviously used for cleaning cuts, stopping nosebleeds (horse or human), wiping gunky eyes, etc.
– Hibi Scrub. Or as a colleague of mine calls it Hippy Scrub. Not many people know its strength, and that when used in concentrated dose actually breaks down the tissues of the wound. For this reason if you suspect the wound needs stitches you should NEVER use Hibi scrub when cleaning and investigating it.

– Safety Pin. For helping keep bandages in place, affixing jackets when that rogue button pops off, and for clearing the nozzle of wound powder bottles.

– Stable Bandages and Gamgee. I don’t keep them in the first aid kit as eyre too bulky, but they are for bandaging over Vetwrap bandages to protect them, for supporting the legs – the injured leg particularly if there is a suspected tendon damage, and the uninjured leg as it will be taking more height while the horse rests the bad limb. Can also be used for knee and hock bandages, but make sure your stable bandages are long enough for bandaging the joints.

– Cooling Clay. For coating the limbs after cross country or fast work, and if you suspect tendon or ligament injury. Once the clay is on cover them in plastic bags or paper, to keep the coldness in, and then bandage the limbs for support.

– Homeopathic remedies. I have a couple of these given to me by a fellow livery and homeopathist. There is an incident which means I believe them to be effective in oh more situations, but that’s a story for another day.

– Antiseptic Wipes. These are for the humans before treating any wounds.

– Latex Gloves. Again, for the humans if treating a particularly nasty messy wound.

– Clean Bowl. My preference is an old Celebrations tin from Christmas. Partly because it’s plastic and mainly because they are the best selection box on the market. Don’t forget the lid because that keeps the inside clean and stops it getting dust when not in use.

I think that covers my first aid kit, most yards have a set of farrier tools which are useful in an emergency but at the same time, removing a shoe is harder than you think, even if it’s only hanging on by a nail. Some people have medication, such as bute, but unless your horse has a recurring problem, you run the risk of the meds expiring before you use them. This is the same to a certain extent with creams and powders, which is why you should only have enough for what you need. Although buying bigger containers is usually more economic, is your miniature Shetland really going to use 1L of Hibi scrub?

If anyone has any other suggestions for their first aid kit then comment below.