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Winter Skin Care

by Vet Stephen Ashdown of Global Herbs 


horse and foal

Is skin more than just the bag that we live in?

Well of course it is. In fact it is the largest organ of yours or your horse’s body.

Skin protects the inside of the body from the wind, rain, dirt and contamination of the world around and also helps to maintain conditions inside at just the right temperature.

All in all skin is vital and when it’s not working properly we and our horses really know it.

Because skin is integrally linked to all the parts of the body beneath it also provides a good indication of the health and general state of well being of the whole body.  We know ourselves that if someone is looking very ‘pasty’ there is something wrong going on inside.  In winter if the coat is dull and lifeless we know that the whole body is more susceptible to infections and disease.  On the other hand the protective hair can get so long to protect the body inside that we are not sure what lies beneath!

It is also worth knowing that skin is a very complex organ.  It is not just a layer of cells like the paintwork of a car.  It has many different layers of cells which work together with blood vessels and nerves beneath.  There are also a whole host of different harmless bacteria and parasites and other micro organisms that live in the skin creating a living community.  All the different parts of this community work together to protect the inside of the body.  If one of the parts of this community disappears e.g. by using an antibiotic or steroid cream the whole skin structure is weakened and more susceptible to disease.  This is why once damage has occurred skin is more likely to become problematic again – because the balance of the community has been upset.  Some people get upset once they learn that their beautiful smooth skin that gives them a wonderful complexion is more like a wild jungle than the beautiful new shiny waxed surface of their sports car.  There are all sorts of wild animals and monsters living within that beautiful complexion and they do not look very pretty when seen close up.

So what makes good skin?

  1. Good nutrition with plenty of minerals and vitamins (more than the minimum recommended levels)
  2. Good oil production for waterproofness
  3. Healthy bowels and digestion that absorb required nutrients correctly while keeping out harmful bits of food and waste.
  4. A generally healthy body below
  5. A reasonable amount of good weather
  6. Sun
  7. An environment that allows the body to escape dangerous situations e.g. excessively wet conditions or too many flies.


What wrecks good skin:

  1. Mineral and vitamin deficiency
  2. Poor digestion, diarrhoea or impaction or colic.
  3. Parts of the body below ceasing to work properly e.g. Liver disease, worms,
  4. Toxins that are eaten or breathed in
  5. The use of powerful chemicals of medicines
  6. The use of antibiotics or parasiticides on the skin
  7. The use of steroid medicines
  8. Long term damp conditions
  9. Stress
  10. Flies


What are the specific problems in winter:

Of course we all know that Mud Fever is the major problem.  This disease is caused by a bacteria, Dermatophilis congolensis that also causes problems like Rain Scald and Greasy skin.  The bacteria lives in the mud and but also likes to breed in the skin if given the chance.  It does however not normally get a chance to live in the skin because the skin is very good at defending itself.  This situation changes when the environment gets very damp and the skin becomes water logged.  When this happens the skin is more easily damaged in the field or stable and even a tiny scratch allows the bacteria to move from the mud on the skin into the sensitive parts of the skin.

Once Mud fever has started the normal environment of the skin changes a bit like when Amazonian rain forest has been chopped down to make way for fields  of grass for cattle.  In such situations it takes a long time to get back to normal and often complete normality never returns.  This is why once your horse has had Mud Fever it is always likely to return for a long time afterwards.


What are the other problems that your horse’s skin might face:

  1. Cuts and wounds and kicks
  2. Fungal infections like Ringworm
  3. Mineral deficiency and loss of colour
  4. Tumors like Sarcoids and Melanomas

Of these problems most can occur in Summer as well but certainly winter can be challenging time for skin when nutrition is not quite right and severe changes in climate cause stress and strain on the immune system.  Interestingly though Summer can be just as stressful when horses are supposed to survive on little food and as a consequence do not get adequate minerals in their diet while at the same time have to flight of the flies.

How do we treat Mud Fever

The best way of treating such difficult patches of skin is to keep the affected area dry and clean while applying preparations which kill of the bad bacteria and not the good ones while stimulating skin cells to divide quickly  One of the very  best agents for healing up damaged skin and killing of bad bacteria is honey.  In people it is wonderful and miraculous for leg ulcers and cuts.  More practical is often to use creams based on Cedar, Tea Tree oil, Marigold and the like.

Sometimes it is also useful to feed a supplement in the food which does the same job from the inside.  I may even advise the use of an immune booster which speeds natural healing of all the skin cells whilst supporting the body’s immune system to fight of the Dermatophilis  bacteria.

Free Veterinary Advice from Vet Stephen Ashdown at Global Herbs (www.globalherbs.co.uk)

Management and Prevention of Sweet Itch

Horse Flies and Biting Insects

Horse Lameness

Horse Colic

Mud Fever

Moody Mares

Herbs for Horses

Herbal World of the Horse

Horse Breed/Horse Mating

Stress in Horses





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