The sun­light cure

Some fancy horses get a com­mon issue with an easy cure, but it’s still a shaggy prob­lem.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS TR­ISHA FISK

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.” ■

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