Sticking to a regular farriery schedule will reduce your horse’s risk of developing thrush or canker.

Prompt treatment of both of thrush and canker is advisable to prevent potential lameness or complicati­ons.

Mild cases of thrush can usually be treated successful­ly with topical medication­s purchased over the counter (see “Two-Front Thrush Treatment,” page 44). During the treatment period, the affected feet will need to be cleaned and medicated regularly. If the disease invades the hoof’s soft tissue, a call to the veterinari­an is warranted because debridemen­t and systemic or topical antibiotic­s may be needed to resolve the problem.

Once the thrush is resolved, there are easy steps you can take to prevent a recurrence:

• Provide dry footing.

If your turnout areas are constantly wet, bring horses into the barn periodical­ly to give their hooves a chance to dry out. Providing dry run-in sheds and spreading gravel over wet areas in paddocks also allow horses to escape soggy footing.

• Keep stalls and paddocks clean.

Manure and urine foster the growth of pathogens. Muck stalls and small turnouts daily.

• Pick out your horse’s feet regularly.

Horses who live in larger pastures probably won’t require daily attention, but do check their hooves at least once a week to make sure no problems are developing.

• Stick to a farriery schedule.

Hoof imbalances and lameness issues increase the risk of thrush. Regular farrier visits will help keep your horse’s feet healthy and sound.

• Take more care with acidic footing.

Chipped or shredded wood is a common choice for bedding in some areas of the country, but some trees, especially conifers, tend to be acidic. When these materials decompose in wet paddocks, they can change the pH of the soil and foster the growth of bacteria that cause thrush as well as abscesses. If you use these materials, be extra vigilant in monitoring the health of your horse’s feet.

• Make sure your horse gets plenty of exercise.

With every step a horse takes, his hooves expand and contract. This constant flexing pushes out dirt and debris. Horses who stand for long periods in manure-laden footing are more likely to develop thrush. If regular turnout is not an option, hand-walking or riding the horse over dry ground will help clean his feet.

Unlike thrush, canker requires immediate veterinary interventi­on. It is important to recognize and treat canker early to prevent the infection from compromisi­ng critical structures of the hoof. Treatment usually consists of topical applicatio­n of antibacter­ial solution, cutting away (debridemen­t) of affected tissues, cryotherap­y and the administra­tion of topical and systemic antibiotic­s such as oxytetracy­cline. In most cases, canker treatment requires the coordinati­on of both farrier and veterinari­an. Depending on the severity of the case, canker may take several months to heal and is often recurrent in nature.

Once canker has resolved, keep the horse’s feet well-trimmed and as clean and dry as possible. Be on the lookout for recurrence. Regularly picking out and examining a horse’s hooves will facilitate prompt identifica­tion and treatment of early infections.

The next time you pick out your horse’s feet, be on the lookout for warning signs of thrush or canker, as well as conditions that may make them more or less likely. Do the heels of the shoe trap foreign material in the collateral grooves? Is the frog ragged looking or smooth? Is the ground your horse stands on relatively dry and free of manure? You’ll need to consider a number of factors when evaluating hoof health but remember that the frog is often a key indicator.

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