Horse Management During Wet Weather

courtesy of PennState Extension

Unfortunately for the horse owner, persistent and large amounts of rainfall can create challenges for equine care and have negative effects on your horse’s overall health.

With rainfall comes the abundance of puddles and mud. Highly trafficked and concentrated areas in pastures can rapidly become slippery and muddy, which can be a burden to both horse and horse owner. Horse caretakers may find it cumbersome to walk in areas with excessive mud, and normal care and feeding routines may need to be adjusted. In addition, horses standing or walking in wet areas can experience an increase in hoof, soft tissue, and skin related health conditions. Pooling water can also serve as an ideal breeding ground for insects that can be a nuisance to horses and horse owners alike. However, with proper management and care you can reduce the negative impacts of these rainy times on you, your horse, and your farm.

Common Health Issues Exacerbated By Rainfall

Many horse owners become annoyed during wet weather when their horse enjoys a roll in the mud and extra grooming is required. Horses may roll to cover their body in mud to discourage biting insects, but more often, rolling is intended to assist the horse in scratching “itchy” areas. Coats that are caked in mud can be troublesome however, as mud may compromise the horse’s skin, promoting a common irritation known as rain rot. Rain rot is a skin infection that often occurs during times of extended rainfall. It causes hair loss and can become a threat to the horse’s health, limiting work and riding. Keeping the horse’s coat clean and dry will deter rain rot.  Keeping the horse’s coat clean and dry will deter rain rot.

When standing in muddy areas, horses can develop scratches, also called greasy heels. This condition is similar to rain rot on the body of the horse but is concentrated to the lower leg area. If a horse develops this condition, treatment can be difficult as it is hard to eliminate contact with wet mud or grass. Removing mud on the lower legs and allowing the leg areas to dry daily will minimize issues. Severe cases of scratches can cause lameness and limit work and riding, therefore immediate treatment is imperative.

While rain rot and scratches affect the horse’s skin, heavy rain can also impact your horse’s hooves. Thrush, hoof cracks, white line disease and hoof abscesses are a few hoof conditions that become prominent in times of wet weather. To reduce occurrence, ensure that your horse can stand in a clean, dry environment. Also, pick out your horse’s hooves regularly and stay on a consistent trimming schedule (every 6-12 weeks) to promote overall hoof health. Be aware of the signs of hoof problems, such as foul smell and lameness, and reach out to your veterinarian and farrier if an issue is suspected. Treatment can vary depending on the condition.

Horses standing, walking, or running in mud are susceptible to tendon and ligament injuries. These injuries are often identified by localized swelling, heat in an area, and/or lameness. If you think your horse has a tendon or ligament injury, be sure to seek out care from your veterinarian. Limit the amount of activity your horse has in muddy areas to help prevent these injuries.

Changes To Insect Populations

A high presence of insects often accompanies wet weather and  can be a nuisance to horse owners, reducing enjoyable ride times. Rainfall and ponding create moist, muddy areas that become a breeding ground for flies, mosquitos, and other types of insects. Mosquito larvae thrive 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 also assist in reducing mosquito and other insect breeding habitats. Mosquitoes are vectors for many diseases that can affect both humans and animals. Protection and inoculation for mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus is recommended for equines that live in areas with high mosquito populations.

Mud Management

To help reduce impacts of rain on your horses, it is important to implement mud management strategies when caring for and designing your facilities. When designing your horse farm, try to build on higher ground to help promote drainage. Similarly, consider using natural grassy areas and vegetation slopes as diversions and buffers. Existing facilities can also be altered by adding ditches, trenches, and gutters to help route water to areas of less traffic. It is recommended to work with professional engineers when fixing drainage problems, as it is easy to accidentally create a new problem somewhere else. USDA-NRCS and your county Conservation District can help design these solutions.

One of the most important things to consider when trying to reduce rainfall impacts is pasture condition. Turning horses out on pasture when the soil is wet causes soil compaction and damages plant root systems. The appearance of deep hoof prints, standing water, and bare ground is a sign that the soil is being damaged. One way you can reduce the amount of soil compaction and loss of grass is by designating a sacrifice lot. A sacrifice lot is a non-grazing area where horses are kept for an allotted time to help reduce impact on other pastures. Many horse owners use paddocks, runouts, corrals, and dry lots to serve as sacrifice lots. Using sacrifice lots when the ground is extremely wet can help reduce the deterioration of grasses in grazing pastures.

Horse Care

Overall, make sure you are maintaining good hygiene for your horses during rainy times. Frequent grooming and inspection are imperative in reducing rain impacts and preventing health issues from being exacerbated. If your horse’s coat is long, physically touch your horse’s body when evaluating for rain rot, scratches, or other skin conditions. Be consistent and thorough in your inspections and provide adequate and prompt treatment when needed. Reduce overall exposure to rain and mud as much as possible, by keeping horses in dry, clean environments. Additionally, implement best management strategies to reduce fly populations and mud buildup.

While wet weather may lead to less enjoyable times, with preventative care, you can reduce the impacts rain may have on you and your horse and allow for continued pleasurable and relaxing riding experiences.

The content of this presentation, including text, graphics, and images, is educational only and not intended to be a substitute for veterinary medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine or other licensed or certified veterinary medical professional with any questions you may have regarding a veterinary medical condition or symptom.