Common Equine Ailments               01759 371066

This page includes information on some common ailments experienced by equines. Please remember that you should always consult if if you have any concerns over your horse or pony's health. If you would like a subject to appear here, why not email us with your suggestion.



This is an infection of the skin of the pastern caused by a bacteria, a fungus, or both. In order for this infection to occur there has to be some injury to the skin. This can be caused by persistent wetness, overreach wound, rope or tether burns, mites in the grass (usually this is in dry summer weather), physical irritation from stubble etc. This is a most troublesome condition during periods of prolonged wet weather.


These can range from acute lameness associated with swelling of the limb, the presence of crusty scabs or a wet serum discharging sore area.


Treatment is aimed at curing the infection and prevention of further injury/infection. Treatment of the infection if by removal of the scab, which can be accomplished with various cleansing agents, particularly Clenderm, but liquid paraffin will also work quite well. The whole area should then be washed with an antiseptic, either Hibiscrub or Pevidine work well. The area must then be thoroughly rinsed and dried. The key to this is drying the resulting cleaned skin. In some cases antibiotics will be needed either in feed or by injection. By law these cannot be prescribed without a veterinary examination. Stronger medicated washes may sometimes be prescribed following examination by the vet.


Prevention has to be aimed at keeping the skin dry. Do not apply oily ointments to wet skin. They will merely seal in the infection and seal in the wet. Steroids will make it look better but prolong the infection, so should not be used. Once the infection has been cured in the area, protection using heel ointment containing a mixture of antibacterials can be used, but this must be used on dry skin only. The use of Derma Gel in repeated small amounts over the area will help protect, but in many cases it is necessary to house the animal to keep the area dry. This is best on good clean straw, or if necessary, paper or rubber mats. Shavings, sawdust and peat should be avoided if possible. Avoid susceptible animals remaining in wet conditions for prolonged periods.

When returning to the stable, if legs are wet, wash off any mud and dry thoroughly. If the legs are dry but muddy, brush out the mud. Aim at prevention by the application of heel ointment or protective barrier creams applied only to dry skin.


Start with a towel, go on to kitchen towel, then use a hairdryer to make sure the affected areas are thoroughly dry. Alternatively, put three or four handfuls of bran in the back of a bandage, or put it in a stocking, and wind this roud the leg as a bandage. Remove it twenty minute later and it will have absorbed a lot of the moisture.

Remember - prevention is far better than cure!


Sweet itch is an allergic condition of horses characterised by itching, particularly on the base of the mane and over the tail. The consequent severe rubbing of the affected areas causes skin damage and dramatic hair loss. It can be seen in any age of horses and often develops at a relatively young age, becoming progressively worse as the patient gets older. Once a horse has developed the allergy, it is likely to be affected every year.

Sweet itch is caused by an allergy to the bites of various insects. The primal cause in the UK is a small culicoides midge, although various insects can cause similar problems in other parts of the world. These insects feed primarily at dawn and dusk. They are less active during the night and not at all active during the middle of the day. They are also less active during windy days than during still days, and breed in ares of moist, muddy ground around ponds, marshes, ditches and so on.

Management of the condition is aimed mainly at avoiding exposure to or control of the midges. These are rarely active when the temperature is less than 10 degrees centegrade, limiting the condition to late spring, summer and early autumn.

In most cases this means turning horses out after 10am and getting them in before 4pm, thereby avoiding the most active feeding times for insects. In severe cases fine mesh screens can be fitted to stable doors and windows to avoid the insects getting into the stables, although this is usually less of a problem as the midges don't usually invade accommodation in significant numbers. If practical, ditches and ponds can be drained, and this removes some of the breeding grounds. The midges are also more active in wooded areas, and so avoiding grazing horses near water courses or wooded areas will help to reduce the problems seen.

Night stabling of affected animals should begin before the onset of the insect season and continue until the insects start to die off in the autumn. A single night's exposure to the insect population can trigger an itching session that can last for two or three weeks. Where this is not practical, rugs are available which cover the poll, full length of the neck and are tied around the abdomen and cover most of the tail, however this is not an ideal solution.

Insect repellents may help to control the symptoms. There are a number of permethrin based repellents on the market, which seem to offer better control than others. However, no perfect insect repellent exists, and reliance on insect repellents alone is unlikely to give a satisfactory control of the condition. The weekly application of 'Switch' may also help in controlling the midges.

If your horse or pony has sweet itch, control of further damage is by using the avoidance programme already discussed. Benzyl Benzoate, a topical insecticide applied direct to the skin, also has a mild insect repelling action. Bacterial infections folling the damage may need to be treated with antibiotics.


Most people who have spent any significant amount of time with horses will be familiar with the condition of laminitis. Whilst laminitis is most commonly seen in small, overweight ponies that have had too much spring grass, it is a serious condition affecting horses of all breeds, ages and sizes, and can also be caused by a number of other conditions such as septic shock, retained placentas in mares, and Cushing’s Disease in older horses and ponies.

Laminitis is caused either by the actions of various hormones, or by substances called endotoxins circulating around the bloodstream, which are produced either from the fermentation of lush grass or from bacterial action elsewhere in the body. This causes an alteration of the blood supply in the foot, leading to damage of the sensitive laminae which attach the hoof wall to the bony structures of the foot and particularly to the pedal bone. In the early stages of the condition this damage is limited to inflammation, however in severe cases the tissues can be starved of blood and rapidly start to die. The longer the case is left, the more likely the development of irreversible damage to the hoof structures.

Laminitis can show as a variety of signs, from a horse that is slightly uneven in shifting its weight on its forelegs, progressing to horses that are increasingly uncomfortable and reluctant to move, and in severe cases horses that lie down and refuse to get up because the pain in their feet is so severe. Veterinary advice should be sought immediately, because the longer a case is left, the more severe the damage is likely to become. Unfortunately a number of severe laminitis cases do have to be humanely destroyed each year, simply because the damage to the hoof is too great, and it is impossible to relieve the pain and restore normal foot structure.

Treatment involves strict rest and the use of painkillers and drugs to alter the flow of blood in the hoof, and removal of the initial cause. X-rays are often taken of laminitic feet in order to assess the degree of damage to the hoof and to assess what further preventative and repair work needs to be undertaken. The vet will usually liaise closely with the farrier in order to reconstruct laminitic hooves and to support that damage that has occurred.

As with any condition, prevention is better than cure, so if you know that your horse or pony has had laminitis in the past it is worth taking preventative measures. Severe restrictions on grazing for overweight ponies is necessary to prevent overload with sugar-rich young grass, and very regular observation and examination of horses or ponies’ feet for any signs of laminitis. There are also a number of alternative feeds available for horses that are particularly prone to laminitis.

If you have any questions about laminitis, or are worried that your horse or pony may be at risk of developing the condition, please don’t hesitate to contact Mike or Kirsty who will be happy to advise you.

We have also provided a link to a very useful resource on laminitis provided by Robert Eustace.

More information from the Laminitis Clinic

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