Ask Horse Journal: 03/03

Rain-Rot Remedies
Please give me a remedy for a skin problem that’s all over my horses. I can’t seem to stop it. My horses are outside most days for a couple of hours. My veterinarian said the problem is both bacterial and fungal. I’ve tried a number of topicals, and I had each horse injected with an anti-inflammatory prescription drug. A veterinarian suggested a rose dust that you actually treat roses with.

-Marlene Friedman

It sounds like your horses have a problem with a Dermatophilus infection, commonly known as ’rain rot’ or ’rain scald,’ although rain/wet weather isn’t necessarily involved. This organism has characteristics somewhere between a fungus and a bacteria. It can also be complicated by secondary infections with other strains of bacteria or fungus.

The rose treatment/dust contains the chemical captan, which is a fungicide. This does work well on many horses, either applied dry as a powder over the lesions, or mixed into water as a rinse according to your vet’s instructions.

The key to successfully treating this problem is get rid of the scabbing and crusting. The organisms hide under these scabs and are very resistant to any treatment in that location.

One of the most effective ways we have found for removing heavy crusts from skin lesions is to wet down the area, then apply a generous amount of one of the tea-tree-oil-based sheath- cleaning gels. Work the gel into a lather in your hands first, then rub into the lesions. Allow to sit for about five minutes and rinse. Usually, a single application will loosen and remove the scabs without irritation.

The tea tree oil is also effective against this type of organism, so we would try this treatment daily for a few days to see if it clears up. If not, you can use any of the traditional treatments (iodine-based shampoos amd Nolvasan-based shampoos) on the de-scabbed areas. Odds are they will work better without the crusting to contend with. Plus, maximizing turnout so the skin gets sunlight will help, too.

In addition, the nutritional trace-mineral deficiencies of copper and zinc can also be involved in susceptibility to these skin infections. Dietary supplementation with an addition 150 mg of copper and 450 mg of zinc per day will help clear up the rain rot and work toward preventing recurrences in the future.

We recommend you supplement these minerals separately, rather than in a mineral mix, to avoid feeding the horse minerals that may compete for absorption or increase the horse’s need for copper and/or zinc. You want to avoid supplements containing high levels of iron or manganese.


Shopping For A Youngster
I am in the market for a new horse, and the circumstances are so different from the first horse I bought that this may as well be my first. Many of the horses I’m interested in are young and green. I have the help of a good friend who is horse smart. However, I don’t want to look like the idiot in the background while she does all the talking to the sellers.

What sort of questions should I ask’ What should I be looking for when we lunge’ I know about the basics – like asking about the horse’s background, breeding, a vet check, no impulse buying, etc. What other things should I be looking for’ My discipline is hunter/jumper.

-Shea Ruggles

When a horse is young, unbroken, or just green-broke, you’re looking mostly at potential. This is a very specialized field, and long articles – even books – have been written on this subject.

Even experienced riders, who can easily assess whether a riding horse will meet their needs, should get help from a professional who has looked at hundreds of young horses and is experienced at gauging potential from a horse’s breeding, conformation and movement when turned loose in an indoor arena. This is an area where the buyer should stay quietly in the background and let the pro do his job.

However, the pro should also take into consideration why the buyer is looking at a youngster. If you’ve only had one horse of your own, you may not be ready to start a young horse from the beginning.

You’re likely looking at an investment of several years and a lot of professional help before you’ll be comfortable and safe on your youngster. Shopping for equine potential is seductive, but it can be more expensive in the long run than buying a horse with some solid training.


Corn Husks For Horses
My stable puts big stacks of dry cornhusks in the pastures, as it’s an excellent source of roughage. My concern is my horse is insulin-resistant and a friend’s horse has Cushing’s.

-Carla Free

Corn stalks are safe to feed a Cushing’s or insulin-resistant horse from a carbohydrate standpoint as long as there are no ears left on them. They’re a good source of fiber and have a ”chew factor” to keep the horses occupied and away from the fence lines, with a calorie level about the same as straw. One problem you can run into is mold. Check the leaves for characteristic black dots that indicate mold.

Another possible problem is pesticide/larvicide contamination. Corn that was treated for pests like cutworm or corn borers with organophosphate insecticides may have high residual levels in the stalks, high enough that they can’t be fed to cattle without getting unacceptable residues in milk and meat.


Bedding for COPD
I’m looking for alternative bedding for my Tennessee Walker who is COPD (”heaves”).

He’s improved with magnesium supplementation but, in June 2002, you discussed camphor vs. clenbuterol. I am paying $210 per bottle for Ventipumin and wondered about applying Vicks along the neck and chest and around the exterior of the nostrils. Is that correct’

-Gayle Schroeder
South Carolina

The control of dust, which includes airborne allergens, is the most important factor in COPD control. We suggest Hunt Club Bedding (see August 2001,, 800/622-1862), which is basically a chopped cardboard type of bedding. In addition, measures such as dunking hay or using hay cubes, which can also be moistened, and misting dry grains also help. If other people in the barn use traditional bedding, your measures will be less successful than they could be, but it will still help. Never have the barn closed up tight and be sure your horse gets plenty of turn out and regular gentle exercise at a level he can tolerate comfortably. This helps open the airways and gets any mucus to drain.

In addition to the magnesium, you might want to check for adequate levels of antioxidant/anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals, including vitamins E and C, selenium, copper and zinc.

Whether Vicks/camphor will be a viable alternative to clenbuterol or not can’t be predicted, but it won’t hurt to try. We would keep a layer of Vicks just below the horse’s nostrils at all times and rub into the neck and chest at night. If the Vicks isn’t enough to control symptoms, ask your vet about albuterol. This is available as a pediatric syrup you can give by oral syringe or put in the feed and is much less expensive than clenbuterol.


Pastured Horses
For the first time, I have my horses on pasture. I have had horses for 30 years and never had the luxury before. I need information on winter rye grass. Our pasture has winter rye and coastal Bermuda. We planted our fields with winter rye last year, and now it is baled. What is the nutrition of this grass growing and baled’

-Nancy Parks

You should have your pasture and hay analyzed, as it is the only truly accurate way to determine what minerals need to be supplemented and in what amounts.

Winter rye tends to be higher in protein and lower in fiber than many pasture or native grasses. Becaus e it is an above-average nitrogen accumulator, it may also pose more risk of nitrate toxicity. Even low-level overexposure to nitrates can interfere with thyroid function.

All winter grasses are also much higher in simple and complex sugars than annual grasses, which will die back completely to brown over the winter. This can pose a problem for carbohydrate-sensitive horses and puts them at higher risk for grass founder/laminitis.

On the other hand, if you have a hard-keeper Thoroughbred-type horse, this may be a good choice.


Mushrooms In The Field
It’s been a weird year weather-wise here with very hot temperatures followed by loads of rain. Odd-looking ”mushrooms” are appearing in my pasture. Should I worry about the horses getting into them’

-K. Burns
New York

Although mushroom poisoning is rare in horses, and they don’t seem to be particularly tempted to munch on them, there are several wild species that can be highly poisonous if they do. Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to always tell a poisonous from a nonpoisonous mushroom.

If you only have a few, you could pick them and dispose of them as they come up. If more, drag the pasture to knock down the mushrooms. They will rapidly shrivel and die once knocked down. Overall, the risk to the horses is low, so you shouldn’t panic. If you have a large number of them, consider taking representative samples to your local agricultural extension officer’s office to have them identified.


Hay Cutting
Which hay cutting is really best for horses’ I’m told that the first cutting is best because it’s more nutritious. Then I’m told the second cutting is best because it has fewer weeds. What do you think is best’

-Joy J. Greene

The nutritional value of the hay depends more on when it was cut in its life cycle than on whether it was first, second, or third cutting.

Some farmers manage weeds by taking their first cutting at an early growth stage, before the weeds have a chance to go to seed, thus reducing weed populations on the next cutting.

There’s nothing really wrong with most weeds, as long as the plant isn’t toxic or mechanically irritating to the horse’s tissues, and the weeds didn’t have too high a moisture content when baled, leading to molding. That’s one of the most common problems with weeds.

First-cutting hays do tend to have better protein levels, because weather conditions are more favorable for growth, but the best indicators of hay quality have to do with stage of growth of the plant when harvested. Concentrate on the parameters of high leaf-to-stem ratio, good fragrance and color, stems soft and flexible rather than thick and wood-like.


Posting Height
My new instructor has me confused about posting. I was always taught the lower, the better, but this instructor is making me post higher. I’ll admit that when I post higher the horse seems to move more freely. Am I missing something’

-L. Brown

Your question has us confused, too. When someone has a problem with posting it’s usually posting too high or holding the torso too upright. You should post no higher than the horse’s motion actually throws you, with your upper body tilted slightly forward. The pushing power of the inside hind leg should be what thrusts you out of the saddle, not your own effort. Posting is really a ’forward-down’ motion, not an ’up-down’ motion.

When a rider posts too high or too upright, the movement has the effect of disrupting the horse’s balance, causing him to raise his head, become heavy on the forehand, drop his back and maybe even slow down. Sometimes the strides will get quicker, but shorter, as the horse tries to rebalance himself.

If you have been actually posting too low, which is relatively rare, you may be gripping too tightly with your knees or slapping the seat of the saddle between strides, either of which would stiffen your horse’s back. Many riders grip too tightly with their knees.

Since your horse moves better when you post higher, he’s telling you that your instructor is correct, just not why. Ask your instructor for an explanation – and don’t hesitate to make such a request during a lesson when something confuses you like this.

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