Though we know to keep our horses wrapped up in cosy rugs to keep them warm in winter time, it is all too easy to forget about their leg care. Cold, wet weather can leave your horse with stiff and painful joints, particularly if he has arthritis. Turning your horse out in muddy fields can lead to injury and possible mud fever.
Trying to manage your horse and minimise risk can be a challenge for all of us.
Field management is the obvious place to start. If possible, rotating land use and not over-grazing will help, although once a field has been badly cut up, there is little that can be done until better weather arrives. Turning horses out in ones and two’s may reduce the incitement to riot, as will making sure that horses are warm, well-rugged and with adequate shelter from bad weather. Although feeding hay or haylage in the field can be wasteful, it is worth thinking about if your horse starts creating near feed time. He’ll be calmer if he is not quite so hungry.
One very important factor in reducing injury throughout the year, but particularly when the ground is bad, is to organise your fencing and gateways so that horses are not racing downhill to the gate. The sudden stops, or sharp turns to get out of the way of other horses, are very likely to lead to tendon or other serious injuries. It really is worth the cost and trouble to re-site gates, even if the need for new access tracks reduces the available grazing. In the short term, use electric fencing to keep horses away from poached gateways.
Check legs regularly
Although the days are short and legs are dirty, do make every effort to check for Mud Fever daily – catching it early makes treatment much easier.
Prevention is all about minimizing the root causes – keeping legs clean and dry as much as possible, and reducing the risk of abrasion. The right amount of hair on the heel also helps – heavy feathers prevent the skin ever drying out, but closely clipped legs are very vulnerable to scratches. The best compromise is to trim shaggy winter legs when dry with scissors and comb, or use the coarsest of clipper blades at the start of the winter and then let the feathers grow back. When the horse comes in, most vets do not recommend hosing the mud off, but instead let it dry, and then gently brush off the mud. Be careful not to use a dandy brush aggressively – this could damage the softened skin.
Keeping legs warm in the stable will encourage effective circulation and prevent stiffness. A deep bed will help keep the stable warm as well as reducing strain on the legs and joints. Bring stable bedding right to the door or consider rubber matting on the floor as prolonged standing on cold concrete will be uncomfortable for your horse.
Wrapping your horses legs will ensure that they are warm, however an incorrectly applied stable bandage may do more harm then good. If the wrapping is not tight enough, the bandage may slip down. If it is too tight, or uneven, it may restrict circulation to the lower leg or cause damage to the tendons. If too much padding is left above or below the bandage material, it may dislodge the bandage or frighten the horse.
Products that help
EQUI-CHAPS® from Equilibrium Products are a really simple idea that has helped to improve the welfare of countless horses throughout the winter months.
EQUI-CHAPS Close Contact Chaps Based upon the premise that prevention is always better than cure where Mud Fever is concerned, EQUI-CHAPS® Close Contact Chaps come well down over the hoof and under the heel, fit like a second skin and help to keep horses legs dry and mud free. EQUI-CHAPS® Close Contact Chaps are extremely flexible and breathable, so can be worn for long periods of time with minimum risk of rubbing, sweating or overheating.
EQUI-CHAPS Hardy Chaps are designed to help prevent leg injuries during turn-out, while also helping to keep horses legs warm and dry. Made from a water resistant, fast drying 7mm neoprene, EQUI-CHAPS® Hardy Chaps extend from below the knee or hock to over the hoof and heel. They are ideal for horses with arthritis and ringbone, helping to keep veterans comfortable and contented while turned out this winter.
EQUI-CHAPS Stable Chaps – designed to keep the horse’s legs warm, dry and protected in the stable. These soft but durable Stable Chaps completely encase the lower leg from below the knee/hock joint to over the coronet band and the bulbs of the heel, so help to protect from scuffs and grazes. EQUI-CHAPS® Stable Chaps also act to wick moisture away from the skin, making them ideal for wet, cold legs after exercise or turnout and by helping to keep joints warm and maintain effective circulation these Stable Chaps can help to relieve the symptoms of arthritis in afflicted horses.