Holistic Horse Health: The Buzz From the Barn

September 25, 2022


Madalyn Ward, DVM shares her answers to specific holistic horse care questions and case studies from clients. To see more questions and answers on real holistic horse care situations check out our Holistic Horsekeeping and Horse Harmony Facebook pages.

Here we present a case study from farrier Cecilia Adamson on a horse with chronic, persistent thrush deep in the central sulcus of the frog. This is actually a fairly common problem that often goes unrecognized by both farriers and horse owners alike. The horse in this case is a Tennessee Walker mare that was barefoot and not being worked. She had fairly narrow, oblong feet with narrow frogs and compressed heels. She was sound at the time, but she may have gone lame had she been required to work.

Here’s what Cecilia has to say…

As I was trimming this horse’s feet, I noticed that she had a very deep split in the center of the frog. Chronic thrush has developed in the split, and the depth of the split made it very, very hard to treat. In fact, the split was so deep that it reached all the way into the live tissues of the hoof. To treat this case, I used persistent daily treatments to quell the thrush and return the hoof back to soundness. The treatment I used consisted of the following daily:

1. I flushed the area with hydrogen peroxide to clean and boil out dirt and debris, and then dried the area inside thoroughly with clean cotton cloths or Qtips until they came out clean. The goal here is to get the area as clean and dry as possible.

2. Next, I put Betadine ointment on a length of cotton or gauze and pushed it up into the split in the frog. I also soaked the area with Betadine solution. The gauze acted as a barrier to keep dirt and manure out of the split and also held the split open to the air. Otherwise, the split might have closed over and the infection could have gotten worse. I wanted the split to heal from the inside out, not the outside in.

As her hooves began to heal, it got more and more difficult to push the gauze into the split-this told me that the frog was beginning to heal from the inside out. The key to success in this case was using the treatment every single day. Missing even one day would have permitted the thrush to worsen.

At the time I treated this horse, I didn’t have the benefit of all the knowledge I have now. When I treat this kind of condition today, I use many other healing approaches in addition to peroxide and Betadine.

I prefer if horses can go barefoot during the healing process (ideally, 6 to 8 weeks). Barefoot horses get much more stimulation of the frog and heal, which increases circulation and promotes faster healing. I would also suggest frequent trimming to keep the split open and the frog and heel function optimal. Ideally, a healthy frog should be 2/3 as wide at the base as it is long. Most of the time, horses with this condition have narrow frogs and compressed heels because they have been shod and lack frog/heel stimulation.

If it’s not possible to keep the horse barefoot (because of showing or training needs), then I would suggest shoeing the horse with a Natural Balance pad and dental impression material. This combination helps to simulate contact with the ground, so that the heels and frogs get a lot of stimulation even though they are not in actual contact with the ground. Keep in mind, that you need to work with an educated farrier when using this approach – these tools, like any other, can be either helpful or destructive depending on who is using them.

Finally, supplemental nutrition and exercise are keys to healing. Healing requires a lot of nutrients, and there is no better source for whole food nutrition than Blue Green Algae. Animal Algae plus probiotics (such as Acidophilus and Bifidus) are essential to encourage healthy hoof growth. In addition, regular exercises increases the stimulation of frog and heels, promoting rapid healing and hoof growth.

If you’re not sure if your horse has this condition (and many farriers even miss it), look for narrow frogs and heels, curved bars and a deep split in the frog (you’ll be able to push your hoof pick quite deep into the center line of the frog). You might also want to look for separate up and down movement in the bulbs of the heels, with one bulb moving up while the other moves down.

In Review: Having this most difficult of areas to heal, one must be tenacious in its treatment. Treatment must continue daily for as long as it takes. Doing ALL of the cleaning, drying, and medicating steps are imperative to the successful annihilation of this disease. It can be gotten rid of but it takes work and dedication. Ignore anyone who says it is chronic and can’t be cleared up because it can!

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