What is Thrush?
In English-speaking countries, the decomposition of the frog horn is referred to as Thrush. It is assumed that fungal pathogens are the main cause of the horn maceration. However, it is actually a matter of natural putrefactive bacteria that occur everywhere in nature and are predominantly found in the horse's gut. Because of this, people in German-speaking countries do not speak of fungal infection but of “Strahlfäule”, literally translated as “frog rot”. These fusobacteria are anaerobic, which means that they live under the exclusion of air. The deeper and dirtier the niches they live in, the more they multiply. This is why the middle sulcus of the frog is so popular and ideally suited as a starting point for further horn decomposition (maceration). From there, the bacterial infestation can spread to other horns. The horn is broken down into a semi-liquid state and can be recognized by an equally foul-smelling, but dark black-gray liquid or smear. Without exception, only the horn is attacked, the adjacent dermis remains completely intact.
Horses that remain predominantly in the stall are more exposed to their manure than horses living in rough boarding. Often moisture or dirt is seen as the cause, which is why the belief in fungal pathogens has largely established itself. The hoof care product industry is well prepared for this and is diligently supplying horse owners with fungicides.
Unfortunately, these are not very effective, also for the simple reason that the thrush is once again just a consequence of a deeper problem.
Here, too, the main reason that the bacteria can spread is on the shape of the hoof.
If the hoof is not symmetrical and horns are loaded or used differently, the hoof will become crooked without the right correction. Frogs that have lost their functionality due to the lack of counterpressure from the ground are particularly affected.
This creates deep niches, starting in the central sulcus of the frog in which the bacteria adhere.
The first step in treatment is to correct the shape of the hoof. When the use of the hoof changes and the shape of the hoof becomes more even, individual areas also open and widen and offer less surface to attack.
In addition to the shape of the hoof, proper hygiene is also important. Of course, the horse’s living environment should be free of manure. What sounds obvious is unfortunately not normal and is often underestimated by the horse owner.
Proper treatment of the affected areas is also very important. This is where the horse owner's cooperation is required. The middle sulcus must be packed with gauze to stimulate the dermis. No new horn is produced without stimuli. No care product in the world is of any use if the irritated dermis is not protected from new invasion of bacteria. But be careful, only pack with gauze! The material must be permeable to air so that the bacteria die.
If the right measures are taken, frog maceration should be cured after two weeks. Since the positive hoof reshaping takes place with the first Preventive Hoof Care treatment, thrush is a very minor and easy to resolve accompanying problem.
The hoof is loaded laterally (left side in the picture). The left bulb is pushed upwards, the heels are contracted. The middle sulcus shows deep thrush which wasn’t gotten under control for years. The left bar is steep under the weight, the right bar leans onto the sole horn. The right frog sulcus is covered by frog horn, leaning over it like a roof.
Same hoof only 3.5 weeks later. No thrush. After only one treatment the lateral side is less stressed. Horn parts ‘shift’. Narrow parts opened up; other parts were taken into load.
5 Easy Steps to a Strong and Healthy Hoof
Horses are one of the most elegant animals to live with humans. It isn't easy to find a person who doesn't like horses or would not like to have one. But, rearing a horse is not as easy as managing other domestic animals. Particularly, the horse's hooves need to be taken care of because many of the diseases common in horses begin with a problem in the hooves.
There are many precautions to ensure healthy horse hooves for your animal; here are the top ones that provide a guide:
Regular Hoof Treatment
It doesn’t take too long to make an appointment for the hoof trimmer or hoof specialist regularly. If you neglect this habit, your horse will begin to develop hoof issues without you knowing about it. Don’t wait until your horse starts to limp. If your horse’s hooves start to get out of shape despite regular hoof care, it is time to reconsider the hoof trimming method.
Consider a qualified farrier or hoof specialist, always ask for the professional’s qualification and experience. Regular intervals are mandatory, though the frequency of the visits varies with the utilized hoof trimming method. Horses do not need to have their feet picked every day to maintain their hoof health if they are living in clean conditions. Regular trimming intervals are more important. However, you should ensure nothing painful or undesirable pathogens are stuck in the hooves before you say good night to your equine companion.
2. Understand Hoof Physics
If you want to empathize with your horse, you need to understand how hooves work. You can't feel your horse's pain or be able to observe any change in the horse's gait if you do not know the physics behind the hooves.
You don't need to get a four-year degree in equine therapy to know about hoof physics. You can read a book about it; for example, the book Hoof Physics: How to Recognize the Signs of Hoof Distortion, written by Nadine Caban, explains how to recognize that your horse’s feet are developing into an undesirable shape so that you can avoid further problems. The contents are simple enough to comprehend, and the tips have proven helpful for many horse owners. Often, owners are not even aware that their horses have existing hoof problems. Nadine Caban is introduced to many horses at the time when they are already lame. A lot of these lameness cases could have been avoided months or even years ago.
3. Hoof Trimming vs Preventive Hoof Care Treatment
Hoof trimming is one of the popular ways to maintain the health of horse hooves. A hoof trimmer (barefoot trimmer or farrier) ensures no overgrowth in the hooves and cuts them in order to keep them short. Therefore, the trimmer needs a certain amount of hoof horn to be able to cut material off. Preventive Hoof Care works differently. The PHC hoof specialist does not wait until the hoof has gotten out of shape. The hoof wall is not cut off unevenly in order to shorten the horn tubules or create a desirable shape. Instead, a certain filing technique is utilized to control the abrasion of horn and how the horse will further use its feet. The horse literally walks itself into the correct shape. Hoof problems and diseases can be cured rapidly and also be prevented in a very non-invasive way.
It is prudent to get your horse's hooves trimmed by an experienced and qualified hoof specialist. There are hoof trimming services that might cause even more pain to the horse because the trimming process is not a simple one and requires education.
Being a German Hoof Orthopedist, Nadine Caban experienced that radical uneven hoof wall trimming is detrimental to the horse’s hoof. Her experience working with many horses throughout the years indicates that hoof trimming sometimes causes more damage than it alleviates. She suggests alternative preventive measures to save your horse from getting hoof distortion and diseases in the first place. Her book explains why those preventive techniques have proven to be more effective in maintaining strong and healthy hooves.
4. Clean Stables
Cleanliness in your horse stables should be mandatory. What sounds so obvious is very often not the norm. Horses can develop conditions like 'Thrush' or ‘White line disease’ if their stables are not cleaned regularly and they keep standing in the manure for too long. Anaerobic Fusobacteria which are found in the manure can infest fine niches in the hoof. An unphysiological hoof shape will increase the manifestation. The correct hoof shape is therefore the first step to get rid of the problem. Thrush infects the soft frog horn and can spread to the bulbs of the horse’s feet. It may affect one hoof or all 4 hooves.
The only way to keep your horse safe from the disease is to keep the stables clean and have balanced hooves. Check your horse’s feet regularly. Even a small amount of bacteria that remain in there for a long time can produce irreversible damage.
Instead of keeping your horse in the stable too long, let it run outside! The more your horse has the chance to avoid the bacteria, the healthier the hooves will be. It is not moisture that causes the problems, it is the bacteria that cause it. Horses living in rough boarding have usually less problems than horses in stables.
5. Try To Go Barefoot!
You might feel nervous about this one and think your horse can’t go without shoes. You might have tried it and did not succeed. The reason for that might have been the approach how the process was started. The advantages of a barefoot and disadvantages of a metal shoe are indisputable. If you want strong and healthy hooves for your horse you have no other choice than to leave the shoes off. Only the unshod hoof can experience natural abrasion which is needed for healthy hoof physics and healthy horn production. It is important to be aware that a hoof that has been on shoes for some time needs rehabilitation time once the shoe comes off. The hoof horn quality decreases on a shoe and needs to grow out completely. That takes up to a year. Therefore, it is even more important to prepare the hoof in a way that undesirable mechanical forces do not weaken the weight bearing hoof wall further more. Every hoof can be successfully restored and lead to barefoot with the right treatment. Even top performance horses do not need shoes. If the hooves are healthy, they can withstand any challenges we expose them to.
Understanding these basics of hoof health care will help you keep your horse healthy and running without the need of going to a vet now and then. What's more important is that your horse will be free of pain and illness. Simply by reading the book on Hoof Physics by Nadine Caban and following preventive measures, you can be the best doctor for your horse. You can also search for online resources about hoof physics; there are plenty of videos and blogs that will help you take care of your horse.