Mud Woes

It’s really hard to come up with anything good to say about mud – except that it’s not ice!  I want to focus on two challenging skin issues which are made worse by mud.  Scratches/Mud Fever and Thrush.


Scratches/mud fever is a skin condition of the back of the pastern, sometimes extending higher up the leg.  It is characterized by heavy, tightly adherent scabs over raw, red and inflamed lesions.  While fungi are often blamed, this is almost exclusively a bacterial infection.  Dermatophilus congolensis is often present, the same organism that causes “rain rot” skin disease on the upper body.

Thrush is an infection deep in the recesses on either side of the frog, in its central sulcus and/or in the space between the heel bulbs. Again, fungus is often suspected but this is really a problem with anaerobic bacteria – organisms that thrive in areas of low oxygen tension. Other bacteria can also be cultured and it is believed some of these create conditions that make it easier for the anaerobic organisms to invade.

Physical measures you can take to help prevent or treat these problems include:

  • Clip the hair on the back of the pastern and fetlock to expose the skin to sun and air
  • Keep the frogs trimmed of flaps (moisture and low oxygen thrive under these)
  • Maintain a balanced trim to avoid shearing forces at the heels which can tear the tissue
  • Check the feet and skin daily
  • Do not keep the horse standing in mud 24 hours a day

There are many, many different treatments for these conditions, both off the shelf and homemade formulas.  I prefer to at least start with herbal ingredients because they can be highly effective and have good residual activity for at least 24 hours, adhering well.

There are two general categories of ingredients to look for.  These are antimicrobial, typically essential oils, and those that condition and support healing.  Salves are better than ointments or creams because they seal better.  To get them into deep spaces like between the heels or the depths of the frog sulci, gently heat by placed a few spoonfuls in a small cup then float in hot water until the product thins.

Antimicrobial ingredients include Tea Tree, Oregano, Calendula, Eucalyptus, Thyme and Rosemary.  For healing support look for Golden Seal, Calendula, Aloe, Comfrey, Oregon Grape, Lavender and Plantain.

To treat skin, remove all surface dirt, clean with warm water and if necessary a gentle, nondrying soap like castile or green soap.  If very thick scabs are present allow lather to sit in place for several minutes before rinsing. This can be repeated to loosen scabs. Rub gently with a wash cloth to attempt to loosen scabs.  If scabs persist, apply your salve then bandage the area. Once scabs come off you can leave it open to the air.

For thrush, clean and wash as above.  Salves should be heated to a thinner consistency that can be injected into the cleft between the heel bulbs and soaked up by cotton balls for packing around the frog.  Keep the horse in a clean, dry area until healed.

Worse than mud is the problems it can cause but with diligent treatment your horse will be healed and ready to go in short order.

Eleanor Kellon,  VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition .
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