Horse Wet Weather Woes
Posted: October 19, 2011
By Helene McKernan, Clinton County Extension
Warm wet climates assist forages with a rapid growth. This is a positive if your pasture in late summer had slowed down in growth. Pastures thrive on the late summer and early fall growing season. Warm days followed by cool nights with moisture assist many grasses in rapidly regaining growth spurts that were stunted by the heat of summer. Grasses that usually are not as appetizing to the horse after a long hot summer, rejuvenate producing sweeter tasting forage that horses enjoy. Often a horse will forage in areas in the pasture during the autumn months that were ignored during the summer. Clipping the forages to the desirable height will assist in maintaining the pasture for longer usage later in the growing season and will also assist in eliminating weeds. Many weeds go to seed during the latter part of the summer and early fall and continual clipping will assist in reducing the spread of weed growth. The key is to clip the undesirable forages before there is the opportunity for seed heads to disperse.
With cooler autumn nights the nuisance of insects reduces assisting in more enjoyable riding time. Add the rainfall and “ponding” at moist, muddy areas and areas become the breeding grounds for bacteria, flies and other type of insects. Mosquitos’ larva thrives in stagnant waters found in drinking troughs and puddles. Draining and managing surface water areas can eliminate ponding. Adding a small amount of bleach to drinking troughs can assist in reducing mosquito and other insect breeding habitats. Mosquitos are the carrier of many diseases that can affect both humans and animals. Protection and inoculation for diseases such as West Nile is recommended for equine that live in areas subject to conditions suitable for mosquito growth.
With rainfall comes the abundance of mud. The high concentration areas in pastures, such as gate entrances, rapidly become soggy and muddy. This becomes a burden to both the horse owner and equine. The horse caretaker finds difficulty in walking in areas with excessive mud. Horses standing and walking in muddy areas can promote hoof diseases, such as thrush and seedy toe. Proper management of high concentration areas can decrease the potential undesirable conditions. Construction of diversion ditches, buffer and draining areas and the use of a variety or combination of footing materials can eliminate many potential problems. Contact the Extension Office for suggestions and information on construction in high density areas.
Many horse owners become annoyed during wet weather when their horse enjoys a roll in the mud, for it presents a burden for owners when brushing the coat of the horse. The horse may use rolling in mud to cover their body to discourage biting insects, but more often the roll is intended to assist the horse in scratching “itchy” areas. During the summer months the horses’ coat is less dense and permits easier evaporation of sweat. With cooler temperatures the horses’ coat becomes denser to provide insulation during colder temperatures. The thicker coat covered with mud will not provide for the skin underneath to remain dry and healthy. If the autumn day becomes very warm, the horse will sweat. Because the sweat is not able to be evaporated as easily as when in summer coat, the horse will roll in the mud to itch. A roll in the mud relieves the itch, but can pack down the hair follicles and become a breeding area for bacteria. A common skin irritation in the fall called rain rot can produce hair loss and skin infection. Not only does this condition cause unsightliness, with the loss of hair, but also can become a threat to the health of the horse. Keeping the horses’ coat clean and dry will deter rain rot.
When standing in muddy areas horses can develop “scratches” or “greasy heels.” These conditions are similar to what happens in rain rot on the body of the horse, but are concentrated in the lower leg areas of the horse. If a horse develops these conditions, treatment and curing can be difficult as it becomes more difficult to eliminate contact with wet mud or grasses. Removing mud on the lower legs and allowing the leg areas to dry daily will minimize issues. Severe cases can cause lameness and loss of the use of the horse for performance activities.
As the consistent rainfall leads to less enjoyable time spend with your horse, remember that during this period extra care of the horse and its surroundings will eliminate additional work if and when a horse develops an irritating problem caused by wet weather. Autumn horseback riding is enjoyable and relaxing and prevention and maintenance of your horse during this period will ensure that you can enjoy the beauty of the season.