An attentive group of equine owners and caretakers gathered at The Red Mile Clubhouse in Lexington, KY, last week to learn how to better care for their farms and their horses during wet weather. The Kentucky Equine Networking Association (KENA) session, presented by the Kentucky Horse Council, hosted a panel of experts who addressed a pressing equine operations issue: How to manage mud.
Soggy conditions seem to have become the norm in the Bluegrass: 2018 was one of the wettest years on record and model projections indicate that wetter-than-average weather will persist throughout the remainder of the century. To assist horse and farm owners in their quest to provide the best care they can for their equines, Dr. Robert Coleman and Krista Lea of the University of Kentucky offered insights into wet-weather care for fields and shelters; Dr. Craig Lesser of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital informed attendees of possible health issues facing equines that spend time outdoors in wet weather.
Dr. Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, Extension Horse Specialist at the University of Kentucky, spoke to KENA attendees about ways in which they can modify their farms to better handle precipitation. He noted that water runoff comes from the roofs of buildings, roads and the way the land naturally drains. The installation of gutters to divert the water away from buildings, as well as the use of swales and culverts, can help eliminate standing water.
At most farms, the heavily trafficked areas are the most prone to mud buildup, including around gates, shelters, waterers and feeders. Coleman suggested constructing pads in as many of these areas as possible; pad construction entails the removal of soil and the placement of fabric and rock to encourage water to drain down and away from where horses congregate.
To attendee's delight, Coleman referenced some ways in which farm owners may receive financial help in installing these pads, though he noted that some programs have specific requirements. The possible financial assistance initiatives included County Agriculture Investment Programs (CAIP) and local extension office programs.
“When it comes to managing mud on horse farms, there is no silver bullet, no product or practice that solely eliminates mud, but careful management can minimize the size and severity of the issue,” said Krista Lea, research analyst with the Forage Extension Program at the University of Kentucky regarding the impact mud has on pastures and fields. “Whether managing grazing or loafing areas, maintaining grasses in a pasture requires occasional rest, good soil fertility and, when needed, the addition of desirable grasses through proper seeding.”
Lea went on to detail that field rest periods should be a minimum of one week, but that resting for two to three weeks is ideal. Field soil samples should be taken every 2 to 3 years and only the needed amendments applied, she said. However, nitrogen can be applied twice every fall without a soil test, at 60 to 80 pounds of urea per acre, she explained, but cautioned that no amount of fertilizer can make up for poor management. Though traditionally a mixture of tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, white clover and some ryegrass is planted in September, farm owners can seed just ryegrass during much of the year to quickly fill in high-traffic areas for short-term cover.
Dr. Craig Lesser, DVM, CF at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, spoke about hoof conditions that might arise with an abundance of mud. These issues included thrush and abscesses, which many KENA attendees were familiar with, and a complication that may arise from chronic abscesses: Septic Pedal Osteitis. An infection of the coffin bone, the treatment for this condition is much more intense that with a traditional abscess; treatment may include antibiotics (either systemic or used in regional perfusion), specific shoeing or even surgery.
A more-unusual condition that may occur in muddy conditions is quittor. An infection in and around the collateral cartilage, this painful condition may require antibiotic treatment, as well as possibly surgical debridement and drain placement.
White line disease can cause lameness, abscesses, rotation of the coffin bone or the sloughing of the hoof capsule—none of which should be taken lightly. Treatment may include supportive shoeing, but more-intense cases may require debridement.
Lesser also discussed pastern dermatitis and thrush. Though each condition he discussed could be helped by the ability to keep the horse's legs and feet clean and dry, Lesser noted that this is not always possible, especially for equines that live outside. He noted that diligent, daily care will allow horse owners and caretakers to address a hoof issue when it first appears, hopefully allowing for a less-invasive treatment to solve the problem.
The three KENA panelists offered attendees targeted strategies to help manage mud on their farm and to encourage happy, healthy horses—no matter what the weather brings.
The next KENA meeting will take place on August 20 at the Red Mile Clubhouse. Sponsors of the educational series include Dinsmore Equine Law Group, Neogen Corporation, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, University of Louisville Equine Industry Program, McBrayer Law Firm and Red Mile.
Read more at the Kentucky Horse Council.
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