EN Today: Fighting the winter funk

Each winter Kate Samuels declares war on her mortal enemy, equine skin fungus. Here, she shares a few of her favorite defense tactics.

Top photo: A very thoroughly NOT funky summer coat

From Kate Samuels:

I’ll freely admit it: I’m a complete control freak when it comes to having clean horses. I’m not even sure it would be safe for me to own a grey, because I might bathe it to death with purple shampoo. My very worst enemy is winter skin funk that develops in secret underneath thick, cold weather fur coats. Whether it’s that little bit of scabby crud on their pasterns that you can’t seem to get rid of, the scaly skin on their elbows, or the itchy funk under their girth, I positively cannot stand the existence of such fungus, and every winter I embark on a battle to conquer it once and for all.

Unfortunately, these determined fungi are not so easily eliminated. These relentless skin invaders have been a source of immense irritation to horses and owners alike for as long as anyone cares to remember. Though unlikely that we will ever be completely rid of these microscopic marauders, they are fortunately not entirely unconquerable.

Here’s the scene: you’re peacefully grooming your horse in mid-October, and he’s not really hairy enough to have been fully clipped yet, maybe you have left the legs furry, or maybe you just have a trace clip. You feel a couple of scaly, crusty areas on your horse, maybe some hair has fallen out. You gasp/scream/moan with recognition: your horse has skin disease, but what kind? What should you do? Attempt to treat your horse yourself but realize you’re out of your league? Text your veterinarian frantically, convince him that Lightning’s leg is about to fall off, and have him rush over just to be advised to buy some common over-the-counter medication?

Get this skin funk away from me!

Of course, the easiest way to treat any sort of skin condition is to do everything in your power to avoid it’s occurrence in the first place. You know how they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Well, in this case, its more like “a few minutes a day of prevention is worth eight weeks of agonizing, frustrating and labor intensive cure”. These organisms can survive under the right conditions anywhere from several months to several years and attach themselves to virtually every item and surface in your horse’s living environment. There is no significant immunity for the survivors of these unfortunate ailments. Left unmolested and viable in your barn, these skin invaders will find the next susceptible victim and continue to make their rounds time and time again.

How to get rid of the fungus among us? Step one: Disinfect. Use twenty parts water, one part bleach. Disinfecting tack, grooming tools, stalls, fences, etc. periodically with this solution should be your first line of attack. Avoid sharing tack or tools between stablemates, and never share with an unknown animal.

Step two: Keep it clean and dry. Skin funk thrives on dirt and damp, so along with doing daily manual checks with your fastidious fingers, make sure that you keep your horse’s coat clean and dry. Look for shampoos containing chlorhexidine or Betadine, and be sure to rinse out the soap well and dry the area quickly. Ointments usually just lock moisture in, so if you use an ointment on the pasterns, such as Desitin or an antifungal, you have to get rid of the scab first so the medication can get to the organism and hold the water away from the skin.

Be relentless, because skin fungus is ferocious opponent. The minute you turn your back and think you can let that crusty stuff on Turbo’s back legs go for another day, the fungus will smile gleefully and start to expand. Be fierce fungus fighters, Eventing Nation!

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