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Triumph Over Thrush

I’ve owned horses throughout my life, and thrush is something I always thought I knew how to deal with. But recently my horse, Sawyer, came down with a very bad case of thrush, and boy was there more to learn! So I thought I’d share some of the most valuable pointers I took away from this experience, because let’s face it: Thrush (literally) stinks.

While wet conditions certainly increase a horse’s risk of developing thrush, it isn’t always related to a moist or mucky environment. Any horse can develop this bacterial infection – those that live in stalls, those that live outside, those that are kept in immaculately clean conditions and those that live in wet or dirty conditions. Thoroughly picking out your horse’s hooves as frequently as possible (ideally every day) is an important part of preventing thrush, but it it’s just one piece of the puzzle. I learned this first hand because Sawyer lives in a very clean environment – he spends about 20 hours per day outside in a large sand paddock where manure is picked up daily, and he comes in a clean stall for just a few hours each day for his beloved afternoon nap (evidence of napping cuteness below):

Sawyer nap

So if a clean environment alone isn’t enough to avoid thrush, what else IS important? The answer is a balanced hoof and good circulation! Again, Sawyer’s case of thrush was the perfect example of this, because he developed it in only one hoof – his left front, which is his more upright hoof that has a bit of a contracted heel. The conformation of this “problem foot” has resulted in rather deep sulci, the two grooves on either side of the frog, as well as a deep central sulcus (groove) that runs down the center of the frog and into the heel.

Even though Sawyer’s lifestyle (about 20 hours of turnout per day) is excellent for promoting good hoof circulation, I should have been paying closer attention to that darn left front foot when the dry summer weather shifted to more wet weather in the early fall. Because one day when picking out Sawyer’s feet I realized his left front heel felt a bit “squishy”, the grooves alongside his frog had become alarmingly deep, and when I slipped my hoof pick into the central sulcus, my ever-stoic guy flinched. I gently picked around a little bit more and to my horror, a small amount of puss came out of the central sulcus. The interesting thing is that this foot didn’t have the classic “thrush” smell, and there was barely any telltale black residue visible on the outer surface of his frog. But clearly there was something brewing INSIDE his heel area, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t realized it sooner.

Because pus is a sign of infection, I called my veterinarian right away and he was able to examine Sawyer’s foot the very next day. He carefully trimmed back some of the exfoliating frog and heel with a hoof knife, and diagnosed the problem as a bad case of thrush that had created an infection inside the central sulcus. Due to the infection, my vet’s recommended treatment was a bovine mastitis product that is essentially a liquid antibiotic. This product comes in small syringes with very narrow tips, allowing me to inject the topical treatment well inside the infected heel. After about a week of injecting this product per my vet’s guidance, along with packing and wrapping the hoof to keep it clean, I could tell the infection had been curbed. For the next week I switched to packing the sulci with Hawthorne’s Sole Pack to keep it clean. This was my first time using Hawthorne’s Sole Pack, and it is AWESOME stuff! The convenient, individually-wrapped “paddies” are the perfect consistency for packing into the hoof, yet aren’t overly sticky on your hands, and contain helpful ingredients like iodine and ichthymol.

After two weeks we were happily done with the packing/wrapping phase and I transitioned to a thorough daily cleaning of the foot with a hoof pick and wire brush (which works perfectly for removing dirt, debris and exfoliating hoof tissue to prep for treatment, packing, etc.), then spraying Healing Tree Huuf Magic Thrush Treatment. I chose this product because tea tree oil is drying and naturally anti-microbial, yet gentle enough to allow new tissue to grow. This is exactly why you should avoid using caustic agents on your horse’s feet – while they may be effective at killing the bacteria that cause thrush, they can also impede the normal healing process. I also like this product because the liquid formula can be sprayed right into the deep central sulcus of Sawyer’s foot, where the whole problem started. Now that we’re out of the woods, I continue to use this spray 2-3 times per week on all of Sawyer’s feet as a gentle, proactive way to keep thrush at bay.

There were other steps I took to address Sawyer’s thrush, besides treating it topically. As soon as the infection was under control (within the first 2 weeks) I was sure to have his feet trimmed right on schedule, because regular professional maintenance is absolutely critical to keeping the hooves balanced and supporting proper circulation to the feet. In Sawyer’s case, since thrush was a sign that something was out of balance, I had collaborative conversations with my hoof care professional, veterinarian, and trainer, and as a team and we adjusted the approach to trimming his left front foot.

Lastly, to provide Sawyer with as comprehensive support as possible, I added SmartHoof Circulate to his SmartPak. He was already getting plenty of biotin and the other nutrients needed for growing healthy hoof wall because he’s on SmartCombo Ultra (which includes all the ingredients of SmartHoof Ultra). But SmartHoof Circulate is a complementary formula with ingredients that support healthy circulation to the foot, so it was a no-brainer to add this unique product to his supplement program.

I’m happy to report that, after swift action and a little TLC, Sawyer’s left front foot has remained thrush-free! We were able to enjoy an awesome fall, made lots of progress in our training program, and completed and 8-mile benefit trail ride.

Sawyer post thrush

To learn more about thrush, the best method for wrapping a hoof and more, I highly recommend checking out our collection of hoof care videos with expert farrier, Danvers Child:

Posted in Health & Nutrition

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9 comments on “Triumph Over Thrush
  1. Lynsey Ekema says:

    I hear ya! We had thrush so badly the white line disease formed and the hoof wall had to be cut. Took a long time to grow back. I find the following offered by smartpak are the new things that helped us along the way (with equine therapy and a great farrier as well!)

    – White Lightning treatment
    – Thrush buster
    – Smarthoof or grand hoof by smartpak

  2. Karen says:

    You didn’t tell us the name of the initial bovine mastitis product you used initially which is so important to clear the infection, was it Masticlear? Thank you.

  3. onehorsekrazygal says:

    Probably Albadry

  4. charmaine says:

    My mare id prone to thrush..in fact quite a bit.. I put her on smart hoof circulate and grand hoof and so far after 2 months she has been thrush free.

  5. sarah says:

    We deal with bouts of thrush periodically in both of our horses. I have found that if I watch for any small grooves to form in the frog (especially central sulcus), I immediately start packing with No Thrush. It is a powder formula that dries up thrush fast. If I can, I will also try to trim the frog a little to expose any deeper grooves to air. (Don’t trim if you are not comfortable – I had a great farrier teach me!) The nozzle on the No Thrush bottle can be a little big for smaller grooves, so I load some No Thrush into a small syringe (commonly used for dental irrigation) and apply it that way. Thrush is no fun, but if caught early it can be fairly easy to treat.

  6. Rebekah Nelson says:

    Thank you for this great article! My gelding Dancer has a mild club foot in his right front which cause deeper grooves along his frog area and I am always on guard against thrush. I too have found Hawthorne’s sole pack to be awesome! Dancer got white line fungus this past summer which resulted in some cracks/separation along his white line and after doing a cleantrax soak I packed the cracks with the sole pack (one pack covered the cracks in all his feet for more than one treatment as I didn’t pack the whole hoof) to keep them clean and bacteria free while they grew out. The fungus is now completely gone but I continue to use the sole packs in the frog area occasionally if I start to suspect the beginnings of thrush, as well as spraying blue-kote on the bottom of the hoof once a week or so.

  7. Susan Robinson says:

    It is “pus” not “puss.” Puss is a cat!

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