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The Black-Hearted Monster Called Horse Thrush

By Jeffrey Rolo

Nice dramatic title, eh? Okay, so maybe I'm going overboard by referring to horse thrush as a black-hearted monster, but it is black. And if your horse is ever unlucky enough to develop thrush, you'll certainly find the stench monstrous. So perhaps the title isn't so far from the reality after all.

Equine thrush is caused by anaerobic bacteria that, when trapped in moisture, can create a fungal infection that slowly eats away at the horse's hoof tissue, particularly the frog area. Most of the time this will create some mild discomfort, but as long as it is addressed quickly it rarely does anything more. Left unattended for a period of time the thrush can eventually make its way into the sensitive areas of the frog, causing a bit of bleeding from the frog.

Many horse owners become a bit gunshy with a horse's hoof and create false diagnoses of thrush the moment they notice a peeling frog or a strong scent. Peeling frogs or soles are not abnormal, and generally occur when a horse is due for a visit by the blacksmith. In addition hooves are wonderfully (or should that be dreadfully?) capable when it comes to trapping foul smelling bacteria, manure, etc., so an unappetizing scent during hoof cleaning isn't uncommon at all.

A hoof that is afflicted with thrush will exhibit soreness, black pus-like liquid as well as a scent that can send a skunk running. If you detect these symptoms you can either attempt to treat it yourself or call a blacksmith to assist you.

Now the good news… horse thrush is a paper tiger! The bacteria that causes thrush is anaerobic, which means it cannot survive when exposed to oxygen. This makes prevention a snap – unless your horse has health issues that makes him extremely vulnerable to thrush, you almost have to try to give your horse thrush. As long as you keep his stall shavings clean and dry as well as clean his feet with a pick regularly, the bacteria will be deader than a doorknob before it can even think of taking hold in your horse's frog. In the many years I have owned horses, not once has one of mine developed thrush – it's one of those common ailments that should be rare since a clean environment and air is enough to keep it away.

If thrush does manage to creep up on you and your horse, don't worry – treating it is actually fairly simple. I suggest first calling your farrier so that he can thoroughly clean and trim your horse's hooves (particularly the frog area). This will make it far easier for your horse's hooves to aerate, plus you can apply medication more directly to the infected areas.

Two products that are highly regarded by farriers for their effectiveness are Kopertox and Thrush Remedy by Absorbine, but just squirting some on the hoof generally isn't enough since the liquid may not reach all the nooks and crannies of the infected frog. Instead of squirting those products onto the infected area try applying the medication with a cotton swab. (Wrapping cotton around a stick or hoof pick does the trick.)

Thrush can be a dirty, smelly business to deal with, but luckily as long as you do not neglect it your horse will suffer no long-term problems. Of course since thrush is so easy to prevent just by keeping clean stalls and clean hooves, chances are high you'll never once be introduced to this black-hearted monster.

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