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Practicing paddock rotation can prevent mud development

Mud matters

Practicing paddock rotation can prevent mud development

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ud is a reality for many stable yards, particularly those in the Cape region as its winter consists of continuous rain. Other regions will experience heavy rainfall over the summer months, but will go without for the rest of the year. Some yards and studs are more inclined to become victim to muddy conditions than others.

Mud is the result of prolonged wet soil conditions. This is dependent on the soil type on the property as well as the topography. Water naturally follows the gradient of the ground, meaning that yards located in lower-lying areas tend to suffer more from muddy conditions. Mud is not only an eyesore, but can create an unsafe environment for your horse. Slipping and falling are two realities for horses who do not have solid footing. Furthermore, muddy conditions create the ideal niche for bacteria to reproduce, which can later develop into a health threat.

Health risks

Mud fever is extremely common during the wet season. Mud fever, taxonomically known as pastern dermatitis, encompasses a whole range of diseases that cause irritations and dermatitis to the lower limbs of horses. It is frequently caused by a bacterium known as Dermatophilus congolensis, which thrives in wet and muddy conditions. This infection is known to occasionally stay dormant in the skin and only becomes active when the skin is weakened, in this case by prolonged exposure to moisture in mud. In this case the spores germinate and produce hyphae that permeate the skin and spread throughout the body, often resulting in an acute inflammatory reaction.

Mud fever is the most likely health threat to arise as a result of horses standing in mud. Preventative measures include providing clean bedding, avoiding over-washing, drying limbs thoroughly after water contact, disinfecting equipment regularly, paddock rotation, and providing good footing in arenas, where footing materials should be placed at least 15cm deep so that the stability is ensured.

Signs of mud fever

  • Mud fever is a common health risk that affects the lower limbs

    Matted areas of hair that have scabs.

  • A thick discharge that is usually a creamy white, yellow or greenish in colour.
  • Deep fissures in the skin or ‘cracked heels’.
  • Limbs that are swollen, hot and painful.
  • Occasional lameness.
  • Lethargy, loss of appetite and depression.

Contaminated grazing

Another problem that arises from excessive mud accumulation is that of contaminated grazing. The mud mixed with the vegetation provides an ideal environment for bacteria to breed. Bacteria and bugs replicate and lay eggs in the moist ground, which your horse then eats.
This can result in a mountain of different sicknesses that can arise. A solution would be to ensure the teff and other grasses are off the ground in a trough-like container. Avoid using hay nets as your horse can get his foot stuck in it if it falls on the ground. Furthermore, make sure that the food is placed away from the mud as this means your horse will have less direct contact with the mud. When your horse stands in mud, for grazing or in the arena, for example, the skin around the foot weakens and softens, much like a human’s does after prolonged contact with water, which makes it more susceptible to cuts or sores forming, which then increases the chances of contracting diseases such as mud fever.


  • Limit time in damp and muddy conditions.
  • When washing limbs before or after work, be sure to dry the area properly.
  • White limbs are more susceptible to photosensitivity. Pay close attention to these areas.
  • Monitor any trauma that has happened to the skin

Text: Jessi Louw

The full article appears in the February issue of HQ (119) > Shop now