Saturday, August 23, 2008

TIPS, Product Swaps & Household Remedies!

~ NOTE: I will be updating this post periodically, as other ideas come - so check back often! ~

We may not always have the "horse specialty products" on hand OR want to make our own in order to save some money. Here are a few products you may have around the house to use instead:

If you don't have Swat to put on wounds, you can use most products (meant for use on skin) that contains zinc oxide which will keep flies away. Some of these products are diaper rash ointments from Desitin, Burts Bees, Aveeno, Gerber, etc. There are several facial moisturizers that contain zinc oxide, such as Oil of Olay, Cover Girl and Revlon (Check the ingredients label for zinc oxide)

No gauze pads for dressing a wound that needs to be covered? No problem! Use diapers or feminine napkins (yeah, mini or maxi pads!) Don't be embarrassed! They work! If you're the shy type or afraid of being embarrassed, you can disguise them under medical tape or leg wraps. They are clean, they won't stick to the wound, they wick away moisture, they will hold your medications in and keep dirt and flies out! What more can you ask for? It's a great idea!

No leg wraps? Cut the toes out of panty hose or knee high stockings and slip right over onto the horses leg and over the wound! NOTE: Since it's better for some wounds to get air, you can use nylons, pantyhose or knee high stockings alone without other bandages or pads. It will allow the air to circulate to the wound but flies cannot lay their eggs on it. Just make sure the nylons are clean, are not too tight that they cut off circulation and change them when they get soiled.

Got thrush? Use vinegar (white or apple cider) or Listerine mouthwash! (any flavor) Both of these products are awesome at killing bacteria.

Need to soak a hoof injury or abcess? Mix equal parts of vinegar with water for an effective hoof soak that will kill germs and bacteria.

Need a whitener or spot remover? Or have a really dirty horse? Vinegar to the rescue again! (I buy gallons of the stuff!) Equal parts of vinegar and water can replace your current spot remover. For especially tough stains or badly stained tails, use full strength and soak for about 5 minutes. Just be sure to wash it out well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

TIP: Use those socks!

I don't know about you but around our house, socks are strange creatures. I used to think my teenager thought of them as "disposable", (use them once and then throw them away). But I think it's more like the toys in Toy Story, I'm almost convinced that they come alive when we're not looking and some of ours just leave. Some of them hide in the sofa cushions, under the end tables and under the car floor mats but I think most just get up and walk out of the house on their own. (Actually, I think a few have discovered an escape hatch under the washing machine) I always have a laundry basket full of all sizes and styles of unmatched socks, waiting for the mate that never returns. Well, don't throw those single socks away! Save them for your horse! No, I'm not talking about using them as ear warmers...but now that I think about it, I guess a horse could be kinda cute with soft, fuzzy pink or blue ears!...and it might keep the gnats away! but here's more of what I had in mind:

Store them in a plastic bag or roll them up into themselves, making a big ball and throw them in your grooming kit, first aid kit or tack barn. When you need them, slip the sock over your hand like a glove for all types of uses:

  1. Apply those goopy medication cremes and pastes. And it will keep your hands clean! (And the cotton socks will be a nice, soft touch to sensitive areas or wounds!)
  2. Use to clean out the eyes, ears or nostrils;
  3. Clean the sheath or anus;
  4. Use as a soft, tack cleaning or polishing cloth;
  5. Put one or two around the Thrush Buster or Blue Lotion bottle to help keep your hands from getting stained purple! (or hoof polish!)
  6. Keep one in your pocket and spiff up boots right before going into the show ring!
  7. Cut the toes or feet out of tube socks and use them for leg bandages! It will help keep the wound clean, help keep the medication on longer and keep out flies! (Note: If you're dealing with a wound on the hock, the "heel" part of the sock will fit quite nicely over the hock joint! If the wound is on the front of the hock, you can also cut a small slit in the sock that will allow the hock to stick out and give the hock joint more freedom of movement!)
These are just a few uses. Use your imagination and I'm sure you'll come up with even more handy ideas! I was so excited to find something to do with all of those lone socks. If you're really thrifty, you could wash and reuse them but for really goopy messes (and especially those "personal cleanings"), I will definitely pitch them. After all, in my house, I'm sure there will always be a steady supply of them!

Let me know what other uses you find for them!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My horse won't stand still!

It's just my personal opinion that unless there really is a tiger in the woods , (like so many horses think), a horse should stand still when you need or want them to, regardless of what you're doing. It's extremely annoying and another of my pet peeves when it comes to a horses' manners. They should not be stomping and stepping all over you or trying to walk off when you're grooming, saddling, etc. It's not only annoying but it can be really painful when they step on you. If they're flinging their head all around in your space, or trying to gallop off as soon as your foot hits the stirrup, it can even be dangerous. Do your best to break this bad habit.

First of all, make sure you're being fair to the horse. Is the horse legitimately afraid of something? If so, be fair and help the horse deal with his fear. John Lyons, one of my favorite trainers, says it something like this: We can't teach the horse not to be afraid but we can teach him how to act when he is afraid.

If they're not afraid, then how old is the horse, what breed is it and how long are you expecting them to stand? Are you being reasonable? If a yearling has been in a stall all night, chances are they're going to be dancing around and ready to go! You and I would, wouldn't we?

Keep the horses' breed in mind. If you're dealing with a naturally high-spirited breed such as a Thoroughbred, (especially a young one!), put them in a paddock or someplace where they can blow off some steam for a few minutes before asking them to stand still for more than a couple of minutes. If you don't have a paddock, the second best thing you can do is lunge them for a few minutes and let them burn off some of that pent up energy before you ask them to stand while you put a gazillion of those tiny rubber bands in their mane.

I worked at a barn once that had about thirty of a wide variety of horses and ponies, everything from trail mutts and lesson horses to show ponies to retired race horses. When I would get Sylvia (a retired Thoroughbred race horse) out of her stall, I prayed that not one leaf would fly by or else I knew my shoulder was sure to be dislocated. It was like trying to hold on to a rope attached to the NASA space shuttle. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I absolutely loved getting out sweet Jack, a husky, bomb-proof Quarter Horse used for lessons. The trash truck came by one day and picked up a large metal dumpster and dropped it not far from us. I thought my eardrum had split and my heart was gonna stop (and perhaps Sylvia had just created a sonic boom when she tore off galloping across the pasture) but Jackie reached down to grab a snack and waited until he had grass sticking out of both sides of his mouth before bothering to raise his head to casually look around and see what all the ruckus was about. So keep your horses' breed, age and spirit in mind and make sure that you're making reasonable requests of your horse.

Another question: Has the horse had sufficient training to understand when they're supposed to stand still? Have they been taught the command "stand"? Do they know what it means? If they haven't been taught, then it would be silly to expect them to do it and even sillier and unfair to punish them if they don't.

Also, to be more successful in training, I think a horse needs to learn the patience needed to stand quietly while haltered and tied and the only way for the horse to learn this patience is to do it. Now, of course, I'm not talking about tying your horse up and going back in the house to watch the movie "Titanic". That's not only kinda mean, I don't think horses should be left unattended for long periods while haltered and tied. Too many get caught in the rope and they can panic and thrash. They can hurt themselves or develop a phobia about being tied which will totally defeat your purpose and is a royal pain to help a horse get over. (If a horse gets a phobia about being tied, you're in a for a very long battle in teaching that horse that it's okay to ever be tied again). If they don't get a phobia, almost all horses who get tangled in the rope get at least terrible rope burns and many horses have died because they hung themselves. So, don't leave them tied for hours unattended but haltering and tying them for an hour or so while you clean their stall, tidy the barn, oil some tack or whatever else you need to do is good for developing patience in a horse.

If the horse doesn't understand what the command "stand" means, then go back to the basics and teach them to "stand". I'm assuming they already know the commands "Walk" and "Whoa". So, with their halter and lead rope on, give the command "walk" and walk them around for a few paces or a minute or so. Next, give the command "whoa" and stop walking and praise them when they stop. Next, give the command "stand" and take a step away from your horse. If they start to move with you, give a slight tug backwards on the lead rope and give the command "stand". Hold a crop, lunge whip or your flat hand up in front of their face if you have to, something that tells the horse "stop moving". Do this until you can get them to stop and praise them lavishly if they stand still for even just a second. Continue to do this for about 5 minutes. Put the horse away or continue doing what you were doing to give the horse a break and let them think on what they've learned. Give them maybe fifteen or thirty minutes or an hour , giving it a little time to sink in. You can work on this several times a day, each time increasing the amount of time you work with the horse. Gradually, over a period of several days, expect the horse to stand for longer and longer periods of time. Horses are smart. They should get it quite soon, usually in just a day or two. And once they get it, reinforce it. Stay in communication with your horse. They like hearing your "nice" voice. Most horses enjoy pleasing you. Be consistant and reward your horse every time they do what you want and they will quickly make the connection of verbal cues and that "stand" means "stop moving!"

Once they understand the new word or vocal cue, they won't forget it. Once they learn something, you can skip a month without giving them the cue and when you give it to them the next time, they will remember. So, if you're absolutely sure they've got it and they don't do what you ask, then you know that they're just being disobedient.

If a horse won't stand still, punishment is quite easy. The philosophy is this: When you're working with your horse, their attention should be on you. Their attention should not be on everything going on around except you. A horse should always know that you are in charge. They don't get to make the decisions. If they want to move, they move on your terms, not theirs. If they want to move, make them really move! Using your halter and lead rope or bridle, (whatever is on the horse), hold them with one hand, drive them with the ends of the rope or reins in the other hand and make them move quickly in tight circles around you, (about 6 feet in diameter, not wide circles like lunging). Don't beat the horse, don't terrify the horse, just get their attention. Their eyes should be alert, their ears forward and their attention should quickly switch to being on you instead of whatever was making them fidget around in the first place. Moving in tight circles like that is hard on a horses' legs and hindquarters and they will begin to cramp up in a short amount of time. A few circles like this and standing still will suddenly seem like a really great idea to the horse. They will "ask" you if they can stop moving by licking their lips, which is a sign of submission. When you see that little licking of the lips, then stop. It may take three circles, it may take twenty but move that horse until standing still sounds like a really good idea.

With some horses, you may only have to do this once or twice. With other horses you may have to do it twenty times and with a real flighty horse, you may have to do it every single time you're ready for them to stand still but it's the most effective technique I've seen for a horse that won't stand. Be consistant. Always be consistant in all of your discipline (and rewards) and the chances are extremely high that you will be very successful in ground training your horse to behave in a way that makes spending time with your horse much more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My philosophy on horse training

Before I begin giving training advice, I thought it would be a good idea to share my philosophies on training. Every horse owner I've ever met views, approaches and trains a horse a little differently. It seems to me that peoples' ideas on horse training are quite similiar to religion, meaning that even those who hold to the same philosophy don't always agree on every little detail and people can get quite passionate on their beliefs! Just for the record and in case you're interested, here are a few of my beliefs and practices.

There is no one way that is the best way to train a horse and there is no one technique that will work on every single horse, every time. What may work well on one horse may have little to no effect on another. Just when you think you have horse training all figured out, another horse will come along that will challenge everything you've ever learned and prove you're wrong in many areas and you're sometimes back to square one. Just as people have different personalities with different ways of thinking and looking at things, so do horses. You have to approach every horse as a unique personality and try different methods or "tricks" with each horse until you find what works.

Speaking of methods or tricks, this is a good place to say that you do not need a lot of special gear or equipment to train a horse. There are certain basic things that will make training easier and quicker, such as a halter, a lunge line, a baton (or flag) and a round pen but if you had to, you could train a horse to do what you want with nothing more than a rope and a long stick, (to use as an extension of your arm, or a driver like a lunge whip, not as a weapon)

I start with what I and others have had the most success with and go from there. If it doesn't work, then I consider it my responsibility to get into that horses' head and find out what he or she needs from me to understand what it is that I'm asking them to do.

I use primarily natural horsemanship training techniques that I've learned from varied sources over many years with a dash of Native American training thrown in.

I'm also really big into horse language, the way horses communicate with one another. I find it incredibly rewarding to know what a horse is saying to me by the carriage of the head, the movement of the mouth or the flick of an ear. It's equally, (if not more), fascinating to sit and silently watch a herd of horses interact and communicate with one another with just body language and rarely a sound. Their ways of dealing with one another are so simple yet their communication is so intricate and complex and I know I still have much to learn. It's an amazing experience to get a glimpse into their world and watch how they interact with one another. It's definitely one of my favorite things to do and I believe that learning to communicate with the horse in their language is a major factor in how successful you will be in training.

And I might as well admit it now: generally, I'm a sap...yep that's right, a big sappy mush. I love on horses, hug them and give them kisses. I baby talk them and nuzzle their velvet muzzles. I love to smell their warm, hay scented breath. Sometimes, (usually when no one is looking) I bury my face in their manes, neck or withers and fill my nostrils with their wonderful horsey scent. I think they are the most beautiful, graceful, magnificent creatures on the planet and most of the time, I am in awe of them....and yet I don't tolerate any nonsense or bad behavior for one single second!

This is my horse training philosophy in a nutshell: Love them to pieces when they're good but quickly, firmly and fairly discipline them when they're not.

I'm really passionate when it comes to ground manners. I've seen a countless number of people who never teach their horse basic respect and ground manners. It absolutely blows my mind to see people who allow the the horse do whatever the horse wants to do and then make the excuse: "Well, that's just the way he is." To that, I say "Horsefeathers"! Any horse and I will repeat: Any horse can (and should) be taught manners! Needless to say, a horse is a very large and extremely powerful animal. Even the most gentle, well mannered horse can severely hurt you, even when they're not meaning to. A 12 year old girl whom I knew very well was killed a couple of years ago in the blink of an eye. It was no ones' fault. That type of danger is just the nature of working with such large and powerful animals. While there is no foolproof guarantee that you can keep yourself safe 100% of the time, I believe there are certain things you can insist on that will improve your level of safety. #1 is that you absolutely must demand respect, for you and for that 2 to 3 feet around you, whether you like to call it your space, your box or your bubble. Now, as I said before, I love to cuddle with a horse and I never want them to be afraid of me or afraid to be close to me but they cannot clumsily fumble and step all over me and they can't force or intimidate their way into my bubble. When they come into my space, they must approach me as they would a lead or alpha mare - they must be paying attention and they must either ask politely or move in respectfully...not cautiously or fearfully but respectfully. There's a difference.

I firmly believe in the 3 second rule: When they misbehave, you have 3 seconds to let them know what is unacceptable. If you're teaching them something new and they do what you expect, you have 3 seconds to praise them and let them know they are on the right track.

I will never advise you to do anything that will make a horse fear you, only respect you. In most cases, you can effectively discipline a horse by simply making him think you're going to kill him without actually doing anything directly to the horse or anything that will hurt the horse. Also, there are several instances in which you can discipline a horse in a way that he doesn't know he's been disciplined. These are my favorite techniques. Using the nail for a nipping or biting horse is a good example (more on that in another post) In that situation, the horse thinks he has done something to himself. He doesn't realize that you have done anything to him and therefore, he has no reason to get headshy or afraid of getting smacked. Now, I'll say here that I have no problem with a firm smack now and then. It doesn't hurt the horse, in fact, you're much more likely to hurt your hand than you are the horse. A firm smack is often necessary when dealing with horses, especially if a situation occurs and you have nothing else to protect yourself or get your point across. Because of the 3 second rule and the way a horse thinks, you cannot take the time to go find a crop or other instrument for discipline. By the time you get what you went for, too much time has passed, the horse won't have a clue why you're disciplining them and the training moment is lost, so you have to issue a quick, firm smack right then on the spot when they commit the offense. You should always try to avoid hitting the horse in the face or head if possible. If you're being attacked, of course you're going to react accordingly and you will have to do whatever you have to do in order to protect yourself but hopefully those instances will be very rare. Whatever the case, a horse should never be beaten or abused. A horse should never be humiliated or belittled. They are majestic creatures that deserve respect, too. Mankind would have never advanced in the manner and speed in which he did had it not been for the strength and speed of the horse.

Read this snippet by Charles Chenevix Trench in A History of Horsemanship and see if it gives you goosebumps: 'God found it good to bestow on man a supreme mark of His favor, and so He created the horse...Man, encompassed by the elements which conspired to destroy him, would have been a slave, had not the horse made him king.'

How true it is! Imagine how the history books would have to be rewritten if we removed the horse from our past! The least we can do is show them some respect and allow them to keep their pride and beautiful spirit.

It is my desire that the relationship between horse and humans should always be one of mutual respect.

Ok, with that being said, let's talk some training!

How to stop nipping or biting

A horse that nips or bites can be an annoying pest but don't feel bad or discouraged because it's actually a pretty common behavior in horses. The great news is: for most horses it's also usually pretty easy to fix.

When I was 14 years old, I bought a two year old Paint stud colt for $75 dollars. His mother was a big, chunky registered bay Quarter Horse mare and his father was a little paint pony. How that happened, I don't know but he came out as a chestnut and white paint with a black mane and tail and black stockings like a bay. I'm not exaggerating when I say he was breathtakingly beautiful. I was really into Native American Indians by that time and he looked like a painted war pony so I named him Red Cloud, after the famous Sioux Indian chief. An older lady sold him to me so cheap not only because he was of mixed breeding but also because he had never been handled, haltered or trained in any way! He had only been fed by people and nothing more. (Yeah, I was a crazy kid and thankfully, my dad didn't know anything at all about horses or I probably would have never owned Red Cloud and therefore would have never gotten all of that great experience in handling horses! Thanks Dad!)

Considering that he had never been handled, Red Could was actually a pretty nice guy but he was a biter from day one. I couldn't get close to him without him biting at me. Using the technique I'm about to share with you, I broke his biting habit in two days and he never bit me again. In fact, when I sold him a year and half later, he was still a stud but he was so sweet and gentle that you could do anything you wanted to: on, under and around him and an old farmer bought him from me as a present to his 3 year old grandson. That was 30 years ago. Since then, I've used the technique on other horses and I've given the advice to other people and the technique has stopped every single horse from biting.

Now when I talk about a biter, I'm not talking about a horse that is viciously trying to attack you! Unless you are a professional, do not go into a closed area such as a stall or corral with a horse that is violently and deliberately trying to hurt you. That horse has issues that probably can't be corrected by reading a book or webpage. Consult a professional that can come work directly with that type of horse. What I'm talking about is a generally well adjusted horse that just has a nipping problem.

Now there are some folks who will tell you that you should never hand feed your horse treats because it teaches them to nip. I totally disagree with that philosophy. Go ahead and give your horse treats if that's what you want to do. I have always given all horses I've been around treats by hand and yes, I have had a nipper or two but I've also quickly and easily broken that behavior and continued to hand feed the horse and have them never nip again. I will agree that hand feeding can teach a horse to nip (especially a young horse) but I also think it's a good opportunity for your horse to learn what is good to do and what is not. Horses are smarter than some give them credit for. They absolutely can learn that they can have treats but biting or nipping is just not the thing they need to be doing (and not something they will want to continue doing)

In the case of a mild biter or nipper, you can usually cure the problem within just a couple of days. Carry a thin, sharp object such as a nail or toothpick in your pocket or hand for a few days whenever you're going to be around the horse. Now before you freak out on me, we're not going to stab at the horse it. The objective is not to draw blood or create a wound. We're talking about a slight pinprick, something along the lines of being stuck by a thorn or a briar and you're not even going to prick the horse with it. You're going to allow him (or her) to prick themselves. Every time you get near the horse, be nonchalent and go about your normal routine but have the nail or toothpick ready in your hand with the pointed end facing out. Hold it in your hand so that it's hidden, with just the tip sticking out maybe a quarter of an inch. When the horse reaches for your hand to nip, hold the object so he runs his muzzle into it. You may have to slightly move your hand a little bit to "help" the horse prick himself with it but the objective is to try not to move your hand so that the horse doesn't realize that you're doing it to him. You want the horse to think they've hurt themselves. (Yeah, this really does work). When the horse gets pricked a few times, especially in the sensitive lips or muzzle, they think something along the lines of, "Wow, that hurt...that hurt me! That's not what I had in mind!" or "I don't think I'm gonna do that anymore." They basically learn that the action of biting hurts them. It usually only takes a few good pricks with the sharp object for them to stop nipping. It's exactly the same concept as a horse touching an electric fence or us grabbing a hot skillet without an oven mitt - - we usually only have to do it a couple of times and we learn not to do that anymore. No one, not even horses, are going to continue to do something that is painful to them.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What is rain rot?

Rain rot is also known as rain scald.

Now, before I explain what it is, I have to say this, which you may get a chuckle out of. I'm quite passionate about rain rot. Ha! That probably sounds pretty silly but it's true, partly because it profoundly affected one of our horses but also because when it did and I needed information on it, it seemed no two people and no two vet manuals said the same things. It was so confusing and frustrating that I wanted to scream. I didn't know where to get a straight answer, so I read everything I could get my hands on, asked a lot of questions of a lot of people and then experimented until I found what worked. Now I know that it doesn't have to be that complicated! I'm going to try to spare you that frustration and share what I've learned and try to help make some sense of it.

For years, I've been around many horses that had rain rot in varying degrees of severity. Our current horse, Shadow (a.k.a. Babebay) came to us at 5 months old with the worst case of rain rot that I've ever seen, so I've gotten quite an up close and personal education on the matter. Below is a picture of our little "Babebay" with a completely bald and raw back (in January!) that is both sickening and heartbreaking.

Keep in mind...this is a worst case scenario. Your horse doesn't have to look like this in order to have rain rot. Most rain rot is just little bumps and little tufts of hair. He had terrible rain rot under a heavy winter coat and I had no idea just how bad it was until I treated it and all of those tufts of hair sloughed off, taking all of his hair with it!

Here he is awhile later with hair growing back.

And a little later - hair all back! :D

Through what I've heard, some say it's a fungus and some say it's a bacteria. It is an infection of the skin, caused by a bacteria called Dermatophilus congolensis. If you're like I was, you probably don't really care too much what it's called, you just want it gone! It's ugly and disgusting but more importantly: it is an infection which often goes unnoticed and therefore untreated for what can be a long period of time. A secondary staph infection is very common with rain rot. I don't know about you but just the word "staph" is very scary to me. Also, as you can imagine, long term, untreated infections can really take away from the health, condition and overall well-being of your horse, which will also affect their mood and performance.

The bacterial infection causes what are basically sores on the horses' skin.. The sores are typically across the back, (wouldn't you know it - in the saddle area?), across the hindquarters and the neck. They can appear on the back legs as well but are more common on the larger parts of the upper body. These sores can be so small that they're barely noticeable or as large as an inch in diameter. These sores leak puss (how many ways can you say Ewww?), which sticks to the horses' hair, dries up and creates little hard, stiff, matted tufts of hair. When you scratch or brush your horse, the tufts of hair come off, usually bringing the scab with it. This leaves a bare spot of skin, which can be gray and dry or pink and raw looking. The longer the hair, the bigger the scab and matts of hair, therefore the bigger the bare spot is when the tuft falls off or gets plucked out.

Now, I've read things that say something like: 'studies have shown it is not itchy, painful or irritating to the horse' and on that...well, sorry folks but I have to say "horsefeathers"! A horse can sense the smallest fly landing on it's skin. How much more can their sensitive skin detect the irritation and the scabs? Maybe the presence of the bacteria on the skin isn't painful or irritating but I know that once a horse has rain rot that has developed into scabs, it is most definitely annoying! and it hurts when those scabs and matts of hair come off! Depending on how many scabs there are and how big they are, when you brush or curry your horse, it will flinch, jerk, maybe swing its head around or try to move away from you. I think it's pretty much common sense if you think about it - if your scalp was covered in scabs, don't you think it would be nonstop irritating and then painful when you tried to brush your hair? So, it's disgusting and painful and rain rot is a good term for it! It's a "rotten" little bug so let's figure out how to kill it!

Some say it can be gotten rid of and some people who have had it get in their barns or herds say that you can never get rid of it. Right now, Shadow shows no signs of rain rot and so I'm holding to the faith that you CAN get rid of it. Since the bacteria that causes rain rot can lie dormant on the skin for weeks (or months) before creating another outbreak, I know that rain rot is an incredibly stubborn problem and in order to get rid of it, you have to be serious about it and aggressive and diligent in your methods. The more horses that are involved, the more difficult it's going to be, without a doubt. I also have to say here that probably the only reason I was successful in getting rid of Shadows' rain rot is because we removed him from the large herd he used to be a part of, in which several horses had rain rot. Those horses weren't ours and I had no control over their treatment. If Shadow was still a part of that herd, I'm sure he would still have rain rot. So, you have to either be able to treat them all and if that's not possible, consider removing your horse.

The bacteria that causes rain rot thrives in wet conditions but contrary to what some say, your horse does NOT have to stand out in the rain for long periods of time in order to get it. Rain rot can appear in simply hot and humid areas, so those of us in the hot, muggy South are much more likely to see it than someone living in a hot, dry area out West.

Rain rot usually starts in hot months but absolutely can continue to live and thrive on your horses skin all throughout the cold winter months if it's not dealt with. It doesn't go away just because the hot, humid summer is over and your horse now has a thick winter coat. The bacteria and the infection are still there (and the sores and scabs).

Because it's a bacteria, rain rot thrives where there is little oxygen, much like the bacteria that causes thrush in hooves or how tetanus gets started in a wound that has closed over.

Rain rot gets a hold when the bacteria is trapped on the horses' skin and is then covered by dirt and loose hair and then moisture is added. (This moisture can come from the sweat of the horse, heavy humidity in the air or rainfall). This layer of dirt, hair and moisture acts as an almost airtight "blanket" lying on top, sealing the bacteria and moisture onto the horses
skin and sealing the air out! It's no wonder bacteria grows! This "blanket" of dirt and hair create the perfect breeding ground for rain rot to get started and explode in growth.

So - - These last two things tell you right away that the thing you can do to help prevent it (and treat it) is to keep that dirt and loose hair curried and groomed out. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a good brisk curry and brushing every day is the #1 most important thing you can do in the battle against rain rot. Keep your horse clean enough so that air can get to your horses' skin and the chances of getting rain rot are much slimmer and the chance of clearing out a current case of rain rot is substantially better.

During the warm months, don't put a blanket on your horse when it's raining. By doing so, you're contributing to cutting off the air supply to the horses skin and holding in the heat and moisture - a perfect breeding ground for rain rot.

Rain rot is highly contagious and easily spread from horse to horse. It can be spread by sharing brushes or tack but it can also be transmitted by the horses just sharing space in which they're going to be touching or rubbing against one another. Needless to say, this means that if one has rain rot, chances are they are all carrying the bacteria and therefore all of the horses should be treated. If you are in a boarding situation where you cannot control the treatment of the other horses, then I know from experience that you're going to have an extremely difficult time getting rid of it. In that type of situation, you may never fully get rid of it but you can help keep it down so the horse doesn't continually have scabbing. If you can't do anything else in a barn sharing situation, don't share brushes and tack.

I also know from personal experience that some horses are much more prone to get rain rot than others. In a herd of 30 horses, one or two may get a terrible case of it that covers a large part of their body (and can seem almost impossible to get rid of), 5 may have one or two small spots of it that never grow (and never go away either), 1 or 2 may get a spot of it, (which goes away as quickly as it came), and the other 20 or so horses may never show any signs of it at all! I don't know if this is because of something as complicated as genetics or the immune system or something as simple as different amounts of natural oils in each horses' skin. I consider it just like some people are more susceptible to sinus infections or getting poison ivy on their skin than others and likewise, all horses' are different, too.

If you think (or know) your horse has rain rot, here is what I'd advise you do:

First, I highly recommend you call a vet. The vet will need to determine that it is indeed rain rot and not ringworm, which looks quite similar but is a fungus. A vet also needs to determine if the horse needs antibiotics, which they most likely will and I think is a good way to get started in getting rid of the rain rot. Notice I said get started in killing rain rot. Penicillin and other antibiotics are extremely effective at killing the rain rot but the problem is that even though they will clear up the rain rot on your horse, for awhile, that bacteria is still living and thriving on most everything in your barn: your tack, your brushes, your blankets and is just waiting to be redeposited on your horse, where it will cause another outbreak on your horse just as soon as the antibiotics have run their course.

I think penicillin or other antibiotics are fantastic to quickly get the infection and scabs to go away on your horse but you can't rely on antibiotics on a regular basis. I'd use them once, maybe twice but I firmly believe that overuse of antibiotics in any animal (including people), suppress the immune system and in the long run cause more harm than good. I definitely wouldn't use antibiotics any more often than once a year unless there is a very serious or life threatening situation that absolutely requires antibiotics.

As soon as the vet starts your horse on antibiotics, wash all of your saddle pads and blankets or sheets in warm, soapy, water. (I throw them in the washing machine) If your items are white, add a cup of bleach to the water. If your items include colors that you don't want to bleach, (or you don't like bleach) add a cup of vinegar. Vinegar kills bacteria, too. (White or apple cider vinegar will do)

Thoroughly curry and brush your horse and then wash and sterilize all of your grooming supplies. Yep, all of it. Fill a large bucket with hot, soapy water and add a cup of bleach or vinegar and just chuck it all in there and allow it to soak for 5 or 10 minutes. Rinse it well and lay it all out to air dry.

It's important to remove the scabs from the horses' skin so you can also remove the puss and surface infection. You can just brush and pick them off but your horse may not appreciate it. The easiest and least painful way to remove the scabs is to use Shapley's product M-T-G (which stands for Mane & Tail Groom). Be warned, it stinks a little bit and it is greasy but it's great stuff! The oils in M-T-G softens the scabs, makes them slid off easily and it also soothes the horses skin. Now, I need to warn you that when the scab comes off, all of the hair attached to that scab comes off, too so it is possible that your horse will have a bald spot every place there was a scab. If there are just a few scabs, no worries. But if there are a lot of scabs, then you're likely to have quite a bald horse. The good news is that once all of the scabs are removed, the condition will heal much faster. More good news is that M-T-G is famous for helping hair to regrow quickly, so you should see new hair growing in within just a few days.

For the first 2 or 3 days of your horse being on antibiotics, I would recommend not grooming them and not saddling up and riding them if possible. Not only will this give the raw areas time to heal, it will allow the antibiotics time to kill off the bacteria so you don't reinfect all of your clean tack and grooming supplies which would totally defeat the purpose of all of that disinfecting work. If you must groom or tack up, then I highly recommend that you wash everything that touched your horses' skin that day - again. Yeah, it's a pain but I think it's necessary in order to be sure you're killing off all of the bacteria possible.

After the first 2 or 3 days, you can then go into daily currying and brushing. It is extremely important to get rid of the loose hair and dirt and allowing air to get to the horses' skin. Don't drive yourself nuts and wear your arms out brushing one horse, trying to get every speck of dirt off of them. Just a brisk curry and brushing will do.

Also after the first 2 or 3 days, you will want to bathe your horse and then maintain weekly bathing until the rain rot is healed. Bathe them weekly for as long as it takes and about 6 weeks should do it, maybe a little less, maybe more. You can buy and use a antimicrobial shampoo but I know a homemade shampoo consisting of liquid Ivory dish soap and iodine works just as well, if not better! (and it's cheaper!) I've included the recipe for this shampoo and directions for bathing in another post.

Also weekly, (preferably around the same that you bathe your horse), you will want to sterilize everything that regularly comes in direct contact with the horses' skin: brushes, combs and all grooming supplies, saddle pads, blankets, fly sheets, etc. Wash them as described earlier.

I know it sounds like a lot but honestly, once you "get into the groove" of things and get yourself a routine down, it's really not that bad. (Unless of course, you own 10 horses and if that's the case, you have my sympathies for all of the washing and shampooing you're going to be doing.) I recommend that as you're heading out the door to go shampoo your horse, throw a load in the washing machine, and fill up a bucket of your hot, sudsy bleach or vinegar water and toss in only the brushes and things that have touched your horse in the last week. Once you've finished bathing your horse, you already have the hose out, so rinse out your grooming items and lay them out to dry.

Hey! look at the bright side! I suggest weekly. A lot of resources say you must bathe your horse and wash your equipment every day for a week! You can do that if you want but with using antibiotics and M-T-G and currying and brushing your horse every day, I really don't think it's necessary.

Ok, I know that was a lot of information so

Here's a recap:

  1. Call a vet (is it rain rot or ringworm and are antibiotics necessary?)
  2. Begin antibiotics (if prescribed)
  3. Wash all of your pads, blankets, sheets and grooming supplies
  4. Apply a product such as M-T-G to remove the scab, soothe the horses' skin and begin healing
  5. Curry and brush your horse daily
  6. Bathe your horse weekly
  7. Wash all of your gear weekly and use only clean items on your freshly bathed horse.
I firmly believe that if you follow this regime, you can defeat rain rot! If you have other suggestions or a success story on how you beat rain rot, I'd love to hear it! Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email!

Best of luck!
Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie