The sunlight cure
Some fancy horses get a common issue with an easy cure, but it’s still a shaggy problem.
he Vet really likes horses. He has never been much of a rider, but he likes working with them. Appreciates their size and sociability.
He likes cows too, which is just as well as so much of his work involves the back end of them, but horses are a class above in intelligence and relationships with humans.
So he usually looks forward to horse calls, whether it is a stocky bush-bred pony out in the boondocks that has been used to carting wild pig carcasses home from the tree-clad ravines and rivers, or a fine-boned, high stepping show horse. They are all horses and most respond to a kind firm touch and healing hands.
He struggles a bit with the miniatures – that’s his back and knees complaining rather than the nature of the beasts – and the Clydesdale along the road was a bit off-putting as well, but that was just because it was a lazy bugger and liked to lean on him when he picked up its massive feet for a look-see at any trouble.
Horses, yes. Horsey people, not so much. No problems with the stockmen, or pighunters, but the showjumping elite and pony club mothers could have him biting his tongue.
The Johnsons had moved into the area the previous summer. They were from down Waikato way and had made a killing selling a bit of land at the height of the dairy boom, although I don’t think they were ever dairy farmers themselves. More likely landowners who had employed managers and milkers.
They did enjoy their horses though, and of course the horses made the move north with them.
There are some things we get in the north that local horses have developed a tolerance to. Ticks are one. Over summer, the Johnsons’ fine-skinned thoroughbreds became a mass of raised lumps and were scratching themselves against every available post or tree. This did not improve their looks for the show ring so the Vet was called. He prescribed getting a mob of cattle in to chew down the rank grass and vacuum up the worst of the ticks, plus regular washes with Permoxin for the horses.
“Can’t we just give them an injection of something?” Mrs Johnson asked.
“Well, some people give their horses a shot of Ivomec, but the odd one has died as a result, and the manufacturers don’t include horses in their literature. So I cannot recommend it. But if you want to try it….”
No, they didn’t want to try it. The Johnsons resigned themselves to the work of picking ticks off daily and sponging the animals down once a week or so.
Tick season finished. It was August. Wet and cold. Muddy. Typical blah Northland winter, not cold as the Waikato but a lot of rain. The horses had skin problems again. “They are getting all scabby round their fetlocks especially, but also under their covers and round their muzzles. They look revolting,” Mrs Johnson complained.
“It’s probably mud fever. I can come and check it out if you really think a visit is warranted.”
The Vet was up to his armpits in calving cows and prolapses and crook calves at this time of year, and mud fever wasn’t very high on his list of spring emergencies, but he had to offer.
“Yes, I think that would be appropriate, don’t you. They are very valuable after all.”
As we drove up the road into the Johnson’s valley, we had to smile at how different the land must look to their past life of tree-lined avenues and railing fences.the neighbours here had been grazing the long acre to eke out the winter
grass and the trail of muddy hoof prints suggested it was their main race a lot of the time as well. The fences between the road and the bush on the high side of the road were non-existent and a few goats skeddadled at our approach. Mist hung around the bush line. The council obviously had more pressing problems over the other side of Northland so the potholes had grown unchecked since the rain started.
But a semblance of civilisation struck us once we reached Johnsons’ farm. The new house had a grand view up the harbour and the landscaping was underway. The fences were all new, tight wire and battens. The money showed.
The stables were the first building we came to. Two athletic-looking horses were standing covered in a corner of the pen outside.
“Rajah and Serenity,” Mrs Johnson introduced them.
The Vet made a show of examining them, and running his hands down their legs, under the chest, neck and jaw bones. He scratched about in the poll between their ears and examined the tails thoroughly. He lifted a few feet and checked around the coronet and fetlock. He even picked one hoof clean to look at the frog.
But the problem was not the horses. It was the weather.
“Yes, it’s really a climatic problem: the rain, the clay, the mud, the damp, causes problems, commonly known as mud fever. The hair comes out in little clumps and the skin looks itchy and raw underneath. Dermatophilosis. It’s a bacteria.” “So can you fix it?” “Not until summer and things dry out again, but you can keep on top of it. A regular wash with a antibacterial shampoo – Triocil is a good one to use in case the problem is Dermatophytosis instead, which is fungal rather than bacterial. Take care to lather it up really well and leave it on for 15 minutes before rinsing them off. Then dry them down thoroughly.
“Oh, and best to use warm water, so they don’t get a chill.
“And take the covers off as long as possible on good days, let the sun get to their skin. In fact it would be best to buy new covers, as these ones will be infected. You might be able to sterilise them,” he sounded doubtful. “Oh dear.” “There’s a problem?” “Well, it does sound like a lot of work. We haven’t got hot water at the stable yet, and if we take the covers off, they do so like to go and roll and they inevitably find the muddiest part of the paddock. We will be forever having to brush them to keep them looking their best.”
“Yes, I can see the problem. Or of course you could leave them uncovered, and let them get a shaggy winter coat. Nature’s cover, it’s what most of the locals do.”
“Oh no, we couldn’t do that. Just wouldn’t do. We intend to take them hunting back in the Waikato. Once the hunt season starts. Shaggy horses? No that just wouldn’t do.” ■