I have read some articles about horses and mud fever, and the emphasis of the articles often refers to mud fever on the back of the horse’s pasterns, just above the heels. In my horsey life, this pastern dermatitis is called scratches, greasy heels or cracked heels. However, when I was studying to become a British Horse Society Instructor in England, we referred to mud fever as a general irritation or bacterial infection of the skin most often found on the legs and belly. And as the name suggests, it is caused by continual moisture and mud, that can break down the natural protective layer the skins provides. Constant moisture softens the skin and the continual abrasive soil, sand or grit can permeate the skin’s protective barrier allowing bacteria to grow and become a problem.
To prevent mud from penetrating the skin, causing mud fever’s bacterial infection, you can do a couple of things. Follow this first and foremost rule of grooming: Do not brush wet mud. Especially after riding your horse through the mud, and the horse is still warm and skin pores are open. It is tempting to use a stiff brush to get the mud off. However, you must let it dry thoroughly before brushing it off. You could hose it off, but often in the winter and early spring when there’s mud, it’s too cold, and the horse will be wet, cold and take a long time to dry.
If you have a barn stall or covered shelter, put your muddy horse inside your clean, dry enclosure and let him dry off, even if it takes until the next day. Then you can brush the dry mud gently off his belly, legs, and don’t forget the back of the pasterns. Keeping your horse’s coat and skin clean and dry is the best preventative measure against mud fever.