I’ve heard that thrush is a bacteria. I’ve heard it’s a yeast. I’ve heard it’s a fungus. I’ve heard it’s two or more of the above. I’ve heard it’s hard to get rid of. I’ve seen horses suffering from terrible thrush that nobody has identified, I’ve seen supposedly healthy frogs with thrush in unseen pockets when I’ve cut away old material. Everybody hates it, everybody dreads it, and nobody has a satisfactory answer as to how to get rid of it and keep it away.
And I’m not saying I know any more about any of this than the next person, but as a Barefoot Trimmer, I can share with you some tips and what I consider necessities to build a thrush-less foot. Check it out:
First of all, I’m going to assume you know what thrush is and how to find it, shoot me a comment if I should go back a step and explain. One thing I will say if you think you’re thrush free is, do you have a thumbprint or a butt crack? Wait what? At the back of your horses’ frogs, do you see gentle dip or a tight cleft? If the latter, you definitely have an infection. Anaerobic organisms love tight, dark, wet spaces. In turn, infected material will contract together, turning that healthy thumbprint into a yucky butt crack. A vicious circle of grossness. Then of course you have your regular thrush, stinky black material around or on the frog tissue. So needless to say, we’re dealing with thrush. What to do?
1. DIET. This is your baseline. Without adequate nutrition, the body cannot maintain balance and health, and no products or regimes will be successful in destroying thrush. At best you’ll keep it at bay, but it will be ready to take hold again as soon as you miss a beat. As I’ve ranted about before, our captive horses do best when slow-fed free-choice, low-sugar hay. This keeps their blood-sugar low, effectively minimizing the amount of sugar in the bloodstream for pathogenic yeast, bacteria, and fungus (regardless of what thrush officially is) to feed off of. Biologically-appropriate feeding also minimizes the stress hormones and excess digestive fluids that flood our horses when they have to wait long hours between meals. Any stress and toxins in the horse’s body will limit its ability to correct imbalances in all systems. Moving slowly all day as they graze also allows for circulation to their feet, via the blood-pump that is the frog and digital cushion. This maintains frog regeneration (essential to healing from thrush and building healthy padding), among countless other benefits.
2. DIET. Just making sure you hear me on that first one.
3. PROPER TRIMMING. A bare hoof trimmed correctly, in as much as it allows for healthy foot growth, good landing and weight-bearing, and passive frog contact with the ground, will be less likely to fall prey to thrush. A frog over-trimmed is weak and unprotected by calloused material. A frog under-trimmed can build up dead material, essentially extra food for the thrush. It can also hide pockets of infected material. The trick is to trim enough to allow for proper growth and regeneration, but not so much that the purpose of the frog is interrupted. Landing heel first (a proponent of a healthy hoof) is essential to providing the ground contact and blood circulation needed to produce a healthy frog. As much as is possible while not further hurting the horse, those tight, infected frog clefts I was talking about should be opened by a trimmer or farrier with a sharp knife, to expose the area to oxygen.
4. TREATMENT. There are endless treatments. Which one should you pick? Easy (ha!). Find what works for you! Then find an application that works for you. Your horse, their environment, your time, your access to materials, all of these are factors in your choice. You’re going to have to experiment. But here’s my personal favourite thrush remedy.
What else? A few randoms off the top of my brain:
– Horses shouldn’t really stand in excess amounts of their own waste, but I find that a mucky barnyard has little effect on hooves that are fed and trimmed optimally. Wild horses are reported to spend long hours in their own waste mounds without contracting any thrush. So no free pass if you have a muddy or poopy yard for your horses, you don’t get to throw up your hands like it’s hopeless.
– Thrush hurts! Tender frogs make for tender feet, and that compensation can travel up the body. Too many horse owners I know (my past self entirely included) sigh about thrush but don’t take it upon themselves to address it with much seriousness. As long as infection causes pain when landing on their heels (where the bulk of their frog is), our horses will spend more time on their toes. This means their weight will be thrown forward, their carriage compromised, and in extreme cases, we will see navicular issues or mechanical founder from a pronounced toe-first landing. I’m not saying thrush is the cause of navicular or founder, but it is one piece in a holistic, circular approach to whole-horse health.
To recap my ramblings, thrush is a sign, a symptom, of greater imbalance throughout the body, chemically and physiologically. Eliminating thrush begins with topical treatment, but must extend to lifestyle and diet if we are to see true health in the hoof.