Vet case study: mud fever causing lameness [H&H VIP]

  • The horse 

    Nina Lady, a 16.1hh Irish sport horse (born 2002), used for all kinds of activities from low level eventing to riding club dressage and lots of hacking.

    The mare has had mud fever in the past, particularly in her white hind socks where the underlying skin is pink.

    “She had it even when we bought her 7 years ago,” says her owner Lucy. “But it cleared up, and we try to manage her carefully in wet weather. Nina Lady is mainly stabled, with daily turnout in spring, summer and autumn. We turn her out in mud wraps when it is wet to try to protect her, which are pretty effective.”

    Since Nina Lady is kept on a livery yard in Berkshire that is on heavy clay, she did not get turned out for many weeks during the dreadfully wet winter of 2013/2014.

    She had worn fairly rigid hind cross-country boots while being exercised on sandy tracks, after her softer Woof brushing boots went missing on the yard.

    The problem

    One day, having saddled up for a jumping lesson, Lucy was alarmed to find Nina Lady very lame in her off hind.

    “My instructor removed her back boots, and she felt better, though still lame,” adds Lucy. Trotted in hand, the lameness was the same.

    There were signs of some mud fever on the hind leg, as there was on a foreleg, and there was quite a bit of heat in the off hind pastern, though no obvious swelling.

    “I went home that night really downcast, convinced there was some tendon or ligament problem, as the heat in the joint seemed quite intense and the mare had never been lame with mud fever before.”

    Lucy’s yard manager was more hopeful, since the mare had done nothing out of the ordinary to trigger such an injury. He wondered if she had got an infection in her skin through a combination of the poor ground conditions and stiffer boots.

    Diagnosis and treatment

    The hind legs were bandaged and the vet saw her the following day. Once her bandages came off, the leg became quite swollen, but there was also some puss-like liquid oozing through the skin at the back of the pastern, which formed into a scab.

    The treating vet, Rory O’Shea of Equine Sports Vets, in Sussex, was hopeful the problem was skin-related and nothing more sinister. But he needed the inflammation to come down first before he could scan the leg.

    “Nina Lady appeared to have a minor focal area of dermatitis just above her ergot on her right hind which was ever so slightly weeping,” said Rory. “She received a course of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and special eczema skin lotion was applied daily for 5 days (and bandaged overnight).”

    Rory asked that the mare be box rested for a week, but walked in hand during the day. She also went on the walker for 15-20 minutes each day. By the week’s end Nina Lady was extremely full of herself and rather bored.

    The outcome

    When she was trotted up for Rory at the end of this time Nina Lady was sound, and ready to be brought back into work.

    “It was a bit of a wake up call to realise that a fully stabled horse could still contract mud fever,” says Lucy. “Nina Lady is now exercised without boots. Afterwards I wash her legs off with some NAF ‘Love the skin you’re in’ wash, and towel them dry to try to minimize the chance of reinfection. So far, so good — but what we’d really like is some sunshine!”


    Equine Sport Vets, Tuckmans Farm, Bar Lane, Copsale, West Sussex, RH13 9AY

    Tel: 01403 731 213