Go to the barn, look at your horse, and you are going to see a lump, a bump, a scratch, or a sore. You are going to see these things on his face, neck, shoulder, girth, back. legs, or behind the pastern. Most lumps, bumps, and scrapes are minor. But of you see ringworm, rain rot, scratches or hives, then your horse has a problem and you have a duty – get busy and get rid of it.
Ringworm (frequently called “girth itch”) is a fungus that feeds on dead skin and hair, but doesn’t invade living tissue, although you’ll see scaly or crusty patches of skin that look somewhat like a scrape.
Ringworm will cluster in dime to quarter-sized spots, which will be quite irritating to your horse who in turn may be trying to scratch the area making everything worse. You can, of course, follow conventional wisdom and bathe your horse with an iodine-based shampoo make specifically for equine fungus problems. Or you can use Lotrimin (anti-fungal cream for humans); which is my first choice.
The way we used to do it was mix a thin paste of “rose dust” and water and apply it to the lesion. Most rose dust products contain “captan”, a fungicide used to dust plants, of course. It works quite well.
Ringworm is highly contagious, so disinfect blankets, towels, grooming tools, saddle pads and everything else that might come in contact with another horse. You can get ringworm too, so be sure to wash with an iodine-based soap before touching your nose. Also wash before handling another horse.
Scratches is seen quite often when rain and winter weather arrive. Also known as greasy heel or mud fever, scratches can be very painful for your horse, even causing lameness. Scratches is an infection, with swelling, inflammation and open sores on the back of the pastern. While it can be caused by a number of things, the most common cause is chronically muddy, wet and unsanitary conditions – the kind of conditions you see in small pens.
The most effective treatment I’ve seen is the use of SMZ/TMP (Sulfadiazine/Trimethoprim) tablets made into a paste and applied to the cleaned and dried infected area. You can get the tablets from your veterinarian and apply the paste yourself. Be careful, sometimes scratches are so painful, your otherwise tolerant horse may become a kicker.