If you live in a rainy climate, then you already know how horses’ hooves can get infected with thrush. Parts of the frog can appear mushy, very soft, with a dark discharge, and just flake off with very little pressure. Sometimes the thrush is not spread out, over an area, but tunneled down vertically into the frog. You’ll know it’s there by the smell! The Merck Veterinary Manual describes thrush like this:
“Thrush is a degeneration of the frog with secondary anaerobic bacterial infection that begins in the central and collateral sulci. The central sulcus is more commonly involved if the horse has sheared heels; the lateral sulci are primarily involved in most cases of thrush (without sheared heels). The affected sulci are moist and contain a black, thick discharge with a characteristic foul odor; the borders of the frog are commonly necrotic.”
Most veterinary sources assert that thrush infection in horses’ hooves is bacterial, although there are some that claim it is a fungal/yeast infection. This is yet another reason I prefer to use wild oregano oil to treat this condition. Wild oregano oil is a broad-spectrum anti-pathogen agent. It is extracted from Origanum vulgare (not the same thing as the oregano you use in your kitchen) and it has outperformed Vancomycin (an antibiotic reserved for superbugs) in a clinical trial. My health readers use it to eradicate mycobacterium (a bacterial/fungal hybrid) from the gut.
Where is the thrush?
If the thrush is more topical, or in a reachable area, I would use a paste – made of wild oregano oil and zinc oxide – as the wild oregano will kill the pathogens (bacteria, yeast, fungus, virus) and the zinc oxide will dry the area right out. In fact, you cannot believe the drying action of this paste until you try it! If you find it drying the area too much, then switch to using just wild oregano oil. You can always alternate as needed.
However, if the thrush is down a crevice or hole that is hard to reach, then I would use just wild oregano oil. Either use the dropper to drop the liquid straight into the hole and then plug the opening with cotton wool, or, soak the cotton wool in wild oregano oil and then stuff it in the hole/crevice and leave it there. My barefoot trimmer, Kesia Nagata, did this and forgot about it for a couple of days. When she pulled the cotton wool out, the infection was gone.
Important: When I talk about using wild oregano oil, I am not talking about the essential oil. Remember that all essential oils cannot be used directly, but must be diluted in a carrier oil first, or they will burn the tissue. So the wild oregano oil I’m talking about here is a commercial brand (like NAHS or Joy of the Mountains – my favorite brands) which is already in a carrier oil.
I also always let my horses smell any remedy, before I apply it. Sometimes they are quite curious and take a long time smelling it, sometimes they want to taste a bit too – I warn them it’s yucky or spicy, but if they persist, I let them taste it – I either squirt it in their mouth, or put some on my fingers so they can lick it. I want to engage their body wisdom and also their permission.
Wild Oregano / Zinc Oxide Paste
- Pour one bottle of wild oregano oil (usually 1 oz/30 ml) into a small container that has a lid. Glass is best, but plastic works too.
- Using a chopstick or small teaspoon, gradually add small amounts of zinc oxide powder, mixing thoroughly, until a paste is formed. Put the lid on and store at room temperature.
*Imagine yourself applying this paste to the hoof; is it thick enough to stay put? If it is too liquid/runny, add more zinc oxide to thicken it up.
Zinc oxide will stain anything white it comes into contact with – so be careful with clothing etc. and be careful not to inhale the fine powder.
Wild Oregano / DMSO Liquid
If your horse has a long-standing, very deep-rooted condition, then you may want to mix the wild oregano with DMSO to create a stronger formula. If it were me, I would make a solution of 30% DMSO (using 99% concentration DMSO in a glass bottle) and 70% wild oregano to help drive it deeper into the tissues. Store your mixture in a glass bottle, with a glass dropper and keep at room temperature.
DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) comes from tree bark, and takes anything it comes into contact with deeper into the tissues, so there are a few safety considerations around it’s usage. If you haven’t worked with DMSO before, then please read my safety instructions here.
Once you’ve cleaned the hoof and taken a good look at it, you’ll know which wild oregano remedy you need to use – and if infection is extensive, maybe you’ll need both the paste and the liquid.
*Note: this formula is also really good to heal a hoof abscess – full instructions here.
In advanced stages, the frog can bleed and it is extremely sensitive/painful. So whether in early or later stages, you don’t just poke and hack away at the frog – you do everything slowly and very gently. This will also make your horse more likely to allow you to treat their hooves ongoing.
1. Clean frog of any dirt, debris or discharge, and gently remove any dead tissue, or flaps of tissue (gently cut them off).
2. Apply a good layer of wild oregano/zinc paste to any infected areas, using a finger (wear surgical gloves) or a paintbrush. Important: Do not transfer pathogens from the hoof to your jar of paste! Scoop out some paste onto a square of wax paper, or anything else you can throw away afterwards, and apply from there to the hoof. Keep your jar of paste clean for future use.
3. For any holes or crevices, either drop wild oregano oil into the hole and plug with cotton wool. Or, soak cotton wool in wild oregano oil and stuff/wedge into hole or crevice.
4. Do not cover, wrap, or seal hoof. For the hoof to dry out, it needs to be open to the air.
5. Make sure horse has a dry area to stand on when eating, or whenever he wishes. If you can’t afford to gravel your entire paddock to drain away the water, then at least have a graveled or dry area for your horse to stand on while he’s eating – preferably low sugar hay in a slow feeder.
Which brings me to my final point – of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. I rarely even pick out my horses hooves (yes, it’s true) and I have 11 horses along the west coast of Vancouver, BC – one of the wettest, rainiest places on this planet. I have not had a single case of thrush (or rain rot, or mud fever, Scratches, etc) in over 5 years. Here’s what I do that prevents all these conditions from manifesting:
- My horses are fed low-sugar hay only. They have 24/7 access to this hay in slow feeders and hay nets.
- The slow feeders and hay nets are located in covered areas, so the horse’s whole body is protected from rain while they eat or stand/rest.
- Their entire paddock and sheltered area is graveled so the water drains through the gravel and they are standing/walking on a dry surface.
- They have open access to a 7 acre ‘sacrifice field’ during wet months, plus a 10 acre forest – where they have made trails throughout and often forage. So they have plenty of places to walk and exercise, they are not confined to a small paddock for most of the year. Remember, even if you just have a small area, you can create a wonderful exercise/play area on only an acre or two, like this woman did (scroll down)
The other great thing about having a dry, graveled area for your horses, is that is also enables them to trim their own hooves! Depending on your horse, and the size of graveled area you have, your horse may be able to completely self-trim, or just extend the length of time between farrier visits.