The end of the outdoor competition season, sees many horses and ponies turned out to grass but with recent long spells of wet weather this can bring with it certain unwelcome health risks. Robinson Animal Healthcare offer advice on common winter ailments, how to avoid them and the most suitable treatment options to make winter worry-free.

As we head into the depths of winter, the last thing any horse owner needs is an injury or ailment that needs repeated attention when there never seems to be enough hours in the day.

There are a number of common ailments that are more prevalent during the winter months as fields turn to mud baths and our horses are forced to spend longer periods in the stable.

Regardless of the type of injury, the quicker you discover it the quicker it can be treated and in order for treatment to be effective it is vital that you have access to a well-stocked first aid kit.

Common Ailments


ABSCESSES – foot abscesses are more common during wet weather as the feet become softer making it easier for dirt or foreign objects to penetrate the foot. When a horse stands in mud and damp conditions for long periods of time dirt can get under the shoe or into the foot of an unshod horse.

Hoof abscesses are commonly caused by dirt or gravel penetrating the white line (weakest area on the sole of the foot) or when a sharp object penetrates the hoof sole. Infection then rapidly develops, with a build-up of pus within the confines of the hoof, which is extremely painful for the horse.

• Treatment - A vet or farrier will need to locate the abscess and drain the pus. Once the pus has been drained the foot must be cleaned, before applying a wound dressing and securing in place with a bandage, to draw out any remaining pus.

• Prevention – Over winter you should check and clean the hooves daily. If hooves are muddy, even after you have picked them out, then use water and a hoof brush to clean the feet, this will allow a thorough inspection to check for any damage to the hoof which could otherwise be masked by dirt.


MUD FEVER – commonly seen during winter, mud fever is a bacterial skin infection that can affect your horse’s skin on the heel, fetlock and pastern. It can affect all horses, but particularly those with long hair around the fetlocks. In more severe cases it can lead to inflammation and infection which can then spread up the legs.

• Treatment – The best form of treatment for mud fever is taking steps to prevent the condition in the first place. In severe cases of mud fever, particularly where there is inflammation, hot poulticing can help to remove scabs.

• Prevention – if your horse is prone to mud fever, try to limit their exposure to muddy, wet conditions as much as possible, and use a barrier cream or protective boots when turned out. Horses prone to mud fever may benefit from regular treatments with an anti-bacterial cleansing wash, remembering to dry the legs thoroughly, ideally using Veterinary Gamgee® as this will absorb any excess moisture and provide warmth and insulation.


THRUSH - During winter many horses are forced to spend long hours in the stable or in water logged, muddy turnout. These constantly wet conditions can predispose some horses to thrush, a bacterial infection of the frog which is categorised by a smelly discharge or soft spots.

• Treatment - to treat thrush, ask your farrier to remove all the diseased tissue before cleansing the area thoroughly with 10 parts warm water (ideally boiled first) to one part hydrogen peroxide before applying a hot wet poultice to the area.

• Prevention – with thrush prevention is definitely better than the cure, with appropriate stable management being the number one priority. It is essential to ensure your horse is stabled in dry conditions and pick out and inspect the feet daily, paying particular attention to the cleft of the frog.


CRACKED HEELS – usually associated with wet conditions, the skin at the back of the pastern becomes inflamed and cracks appear which frequently become infected by dirt and grit.

• Treatment - cleanse the area with boiled water that has been allowed to cool and salt before applying a hot, wet poultice to help remove any scabs, then use a dry poultice as a wound dressing until the skin has healed.

• Prevention – as with thrush and mud fever try to avoid prolonged exposure to wet conditions. Traditional cold hosing with water in winter may also lead to cracked heels or other skin problems. Alternatively, there are ice packs which provide instant, dry cold therapy, without the need for refrigeration, and are a key product in any first aid kit.