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Common conditions your horse might suffer from 

Even with the best of care, horses can suffer from occasional bouts of ill health, injury or related conditions

The role of a horse keeper is to reduce the risk of common ailments occurring, to recognise signs that a horse is unwell or injured, and to take measures to ensure that the horse receives appropriate treatment

These range from skin conditions like ringworm, respiratory problems or illnesses such as colic or laminitis


This is a contagious fungal infection of the skin that spreads by direct and indirect contact, so infected horses should be isolated wherever possible, strict hygiene measures should be adopted and veterinary advice sought. Infection shows initially as tufts of raised hair, which eventually fall off, leaving weeping lesions.

Often circular in shape, these lesions may vary in size and density, and usually occur around the head, neck, saddle and girth regions. The horse’s immediate environment also becomes infected, so bedding material should be destroyed and the stable, plus all tack, and equipment should be washed thoroughly with a fungicidal disinfectant.


Rainscald is a skin infection caused by a softening of the skin following persistent saturation. This can occur in horses that have a weakened immunity or are already in poor condition and lack the natural grease in their coat to keep warm and dry. It can also occur when leaking or non-breathable turnout rugs are used, when there is poor air circulation under the rug and when the horse’s back is constantly getting wet with moisture from rain or sweat.

An affected horse may show patchy hair loss along the back and quarters. The hair can become matted, and the skin may develop sores and weeping lesions.

To prevent a horse from getting rainscald, ensure that it always has access to shelter from the field and that rugs are of a correct type for the conditions and maintained accordingly.

Mud fever

This is a skin condition usually associated with wet and muddy conditions. The skin of the legs and the stomach become inflamed and scaly and, in severe cases, the horse may develop a high temperature or fever. The infection is caused by bacteria that enters the waterlogged skin and causes scabs to form, sealing in the infection.

Always ensure that the legs are cleaned well after work or time in the field. Either wash off and then ensure that the legs are properly dried or leave the mud to dry and then brush it off with a soft brush. If the horse has clipped legs, it is a good idea to apply a barrier cream to prevent the skin from becoming waterlogged.

Cracked heels

These are caused by the same conditions as mud fever. It is advisable to keep the legs and stomach as clean and dry as possible, and applying a protective cream might also help. Extra care is needed when dealing with heels because they are close to the ground and therefore more susceptible to becoming waterlogged. Always ensure that legs are cleaned well after work or time in the field.

Sweet itch

Sweet itch is an inflammation of the skin as a result of an allergic reaction, which is also called Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD). It is caused by a biting midge called Culicoides, and the itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the female midge. In most cases the horse will become itchy along the back, especially around the mane and tail. In extreme cases, the horse can rub itself raw trying to relieve the itching.

Susceptible horses usually develop the condition for the first time as youngsters and, once it has occurred, the horse will continue to suffer from it (although environmental conditions play a large part in whether a horse will show signs or not).

Common cold

This is usually indicated by white or yellow discharge from the nose. The horse may have a slightly higher temperature than usual and glands in the throat may become swollen. It is usually caused by a viral infection contracted by contact with other infected horses. Horses may become more susceptible if they are kept in a badly ventilated stable or lorry for long periods of time. Horses often catch colds if they are competing at shows, due to the close proximity of other horses from different areas of the country.

It is important to call the veterinary surgeon immediately and keep the horse isolated as the virus can spread to other horses. Keep the horse warm and in a well-ventilated, dust-free area. Try to feed with soft food that is easy to swallow and well-soaked hay. Try not to let the horse drink from public water troughs at competitions, and always take your own water supply.


There are three main types of coughs that occur in horses. The first is associated with a common cold and normally starts with the occasional cough accompanied by a watery discharge from the nose. Then, after approximately two weeks, the discharge will change colour to white or yellow and the cough will increase in frequency.

The other two types are coughs caused by a viral or bacterial infection, and coughs as an allergic reaction (usually to dust). If the horse is stabled, ensure that bedding is dust-free (either wood or paper shavings), all hay has been soaked, and that the stable is well ventilated.

If a horse has a cough, the animal must stop working unless advised otherwise by the veterinary surgeon. It is also advisable to keep the horse away from others until the type of cough has been established, as types one and two can be infectious.