Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lameness explained?

So I went out to see Blue last night and get a better handle on the lameness issue. Uh, what lameness issue? He didn’t put a foot wrong. (And I think I might know why.)

I think what we had over the weekend was a perfect storm of two things that may have exacerbated each other. OR maybe it is just one thing that kind of looks like the other thing, but was still exacerbated by conditions at Klickitat specifically. And I’ll just warn you now, this theory gets a little gross. So if the thought of microbes makes you uncomfortable, best read another blog today. :)

Let me explain. When I went to catch Blue in the pasture last night, I noticed that he was wet from the knees down. This is not shocking, as he has pretty much decided that he has free run of the whole property, and his favorite place to go is into and out of the creek/pond.  I seriously think that what he likes about it is that it feels transgressive. If I just PUT him in the mare pasture, it would take the fun out of it for him. So as it is, I turn him out with the geldings, and then, when no one is looking, he fords the creek over to the mares and feels like the cat who caught the canary.

But I digress. The point is that his legs were wet last night. I took him down to the barn to have a look at his feet before lunging him. The plan was to look for any signs of bruising/swelling, and then to lunge him in progressively tighter circles, stressing the joints and looking for signs of lameness. Well, right off the bat, I noticed that the back of his right-front pastern had a wet, scabby area about the size of a band-aid running across it. You know how when a scab gets wet it gets soft and just sort of peels/rubs away? That’s what this looked like. I checked, and it is on the back of BOTH front pasterns, but not on the hinds.

This wet, scabby area does not actually seem to break the skin, but it is missing hair (this part of a horse doesn’t have a ton of hair to begin with).  So I rubbed the dead, scabby bits away to reveal irritated, but not broken, skin.

Those of you who are not as new to as I am to the wet side already know what my conclusion is: scratches/mud fever.

And that may very well be it. Except. (There’s always an “except.”) Mud fever usually affects only white legs, or the white legs are more severely affected.  On Blue, the problem is on both colors of legs. Also, the scabby, irritated areas are only on the front legs. The hind legs are unaffected.

So why the fronts and not the backs? Well, the only real difference I can think of is that he wears bell boots on his front legs to protect from overreach during riding. And the cuff on the boots hits exactly where the irritated spots are.

So, here’s my theory:
1.       Blue has scabby irritation on his front fetlocks. It might be caused by mud fever, or it might just be irritation from the bell boots themselves. The cause is irrelevant in this part of my narrative.
2.       At Klickitat, Blue’s legs got wet right away, and pretty much stayed wet throughout.
3.       The continual wetness softened the scabs, which normally would protect the irritated area from the boot cuffs.
4.       Once they had worn off the scabs, the boot cuffs exacerbated the underlying soreness… and THAT caused the appearance of lameness.
5.       I didn’t see the problem when I checked his feet in the vet check because his pasterns were thinly coated in mud, and I was concentrating on his soles, not his skin.

Mind you, this is only a theory right now. What I did last night was wash his front legs and slather some micro-tek on there. Micro-tek is broad-spectrum but low-dose. I figure it is safe to use on pretty much anything, since I don’t actually know for sure if these are contact sores or fungal/bacterial. I know for mud fever a good mix is DMSO and Panacur dewormer. But since I’m not sure that’s the problem, I think I am going to try applying MTG for the rest of the week and going without the bell boots at Sunriver.

Because what else can we do but move forward? Better to get dinged at completion for overreach wounds that to get pulled at the VC for lameness...

…I guess.


  1. Ruth it has not been unusual for my horses to get scratches on only two of the four legs. The two that get it do have white legs, and it almost always comes on after an exposure to clover rather than trail conditions. I'll have to keep your DMSO + Panacure remedy in mind as I'd rather be dragged face first through barbed wire than treat scratches. I've also read that an overnight wrap in sourkraut will soften those hard scabs if indeed that is what you are dealing with.

    Sport boots would solve your problem and probably eliminate the rubs that bell boots give you. I use Pegasus and Professionals choice. They cover with a soft padded "stuff" we will call neoprene but isn't ☺ One size fits both front and back.

  2. Ruth- That doesn't sound like mud fever/scratches to me. I've found those usually show up as small scabby bumps and can be on any color leg.

    I would be suspicious of the bell boot causing the rub, since you said it occurs where the boot hits.

    With the racehorses we used to put on a "rundown" bandage because they would sometimes irritate the back of the pastern when galloping. These were basically a really thin layer of cotton covered with a light vet wrap, usually secured with electricians tape over the top.

    I don't think this would be feasible on an endurance ride but perhaps a light wrap would protect the area so you could train at least.

  3. oops, forgot to mention (you've probably already done this) might discuss the over reach with your shoer. We have to really take the hind toes back (square them) on some of my horses that tend to overreach.

  4. Frustrating... but better than many of the other things that were probably going through your head!

  5. Here are my thoughts:
    Yes, probably the boots are the major culprit here, combined with wetness. Prevention for that is mostly keeping the horse's legs dry for at least 8 hours a day--a stall bedded with fir shavings is what we use for Hana, who is prone to wetness-induced problems. If you suspect scratches, my vet recommends a spray-on athlete's foot powder. He did graduate research with the fungus that causes scratches, and has a great story about a tipped-over petri dish that spilled onto the desk and got on him...and then he had to explain athlete's foot infection on his belly where it smeared when he was cleaning the mess.

    RE: over-reaching, as CG mentioned, talk to your farrier about this. You can roll the front toes to speed breakover and get them out of the way; you can also add support on the outsides of the back feet to allow the horse to "spread out" the back legs while trotting. Fiddle has a HUGE overreach (it's a desirable thing for standies), but travels wide behind and doesn't clock herself. Make changes gradually, of course.