What is Mud Fever?

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.

Photo credit: Pinterest

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.

Winter Fun Time With Your Horse


Take advantage of winter’s relaxing barn time – grooming and just being with your horse.

Take advantage of some down time with your horse during the coldest winter months. Enjoy the relaxing, therapeutic visits with your horse on days when riding is not possible. Without the expectation of riding, there is ample time for an extra-good grooming. Grooming is valuable for bonding, checking for lumps and scrapes, and assessing your horse’s muscle tone and weight. I find blanketed horses especially love a good currying to itch those places they can’t get to with the blanket on.

If your horse is stabled, you might take him for a walk in-hand around the barn, or lunge him for a short time without getting him too sweaty. It’s better to keep exercise short and more frequent when there is the possibility of your horse sweating too much in his winter coat. It takes a while to dry out that thick coat, and walking him around with a cooler is helpful to dry the coat and keep him from chilling while still wet. If weather permits, but it’s still cold, ride with a rump rug to warm up muscles and keep them warm while exercising. Plan for a bit more time at the end of the ride for walking to be sure he arrives back at the barn nice and dry.

Free access to water is very important as always, but especially when it’s cold as horses tend to drink less in colder weather. Check for ice and broken pipes several times per day. When I take boiling water out to the barn to warm my horse’s water, my horse comes over for a nice long drink. He has started to look forward to it, so I make sure I warm up his water at least twice a day. Extra carrots are a good way to supply succulents when fresh grass is not accessible.

There is truth to the old horseman’s rule to feed your horse “little and often.” It is advised that to help keep your horse warm feed sufficient quality hay. What type of hay depends on your horse, but foraging on hay throughout the day will help keep his body warm by turning hay into warming energy. A haynet is especially handy in the winter, as it can save your hay from being stomped into the mud, and also extends the time it takes your horse to eat it. In very cold weather, depending on your horse, you might slightly increase the amount of hay you feed him as he burns energy just staying warm.

Your horse’s winter coat will keep him warm, if he can stay dry and have shelter from harsh winds. If it rains hard and blows hard, his coat can become completely saturated. Generally speaking, once it falls below 40 degrees and starts heading to freezing temperatures, it’s appropriate to take extra measures to keep him warm and dry. There are waterproof horse blankets that are designed to keep your horse comfortable. Re-adjust the blankets in the morning and again at night to be sure they stay in place and are not rubbing.

Excess moisture in the field, or standing around in a wet stall can play havoc with horse’s hooves. Pick out his feet often to remove mud, manure, ice and snow. Apply some kind of thrush treatment as a preventive measure against thrush and abscesses.

When was the last time you braided your horse’s mane and tail just for fun? Play around, make him beautiful, give him a special hairdo, add a red ribbon and take a selfy of the two of you. It can be your Christmas card next year!