March 9, 2011 - Spring is just around the corner, and we still have a few more months of variable weather before the warm, dry summer arrives. This time of year brings a lot of rain, which leads to mud--and a higher occurrence of thrush. A form of bacteria that thrives in dark, moist environments, thrush is particularly common during this time of the year.
Thrush is unmistakable--when you clean your horse's hooves, you'll find a flakey white substance that usually has a foul odor. While it is no cause for immediate alarm, thrush needs to be addressed immediately or it could result in deteriorating foot health, bleeding, or lameness.
"In immune compromised or environmentally stressed animals, thrush can invade the deeper structures of the frog and potentially damage the internal structures of the foot," explains Linda Lauper, DVM, of H.A.P.P.E.E. Horses in Clements, California. "This can be catastrophic, both in the required level of treatment and the long-term health and soundness of the horse."
"Two factors contribute to thrush being more prevalent in the spring," adds Georgette Topakas, founder of Zephyr's Garden. "The first is excessive moisture. Although not the sole cause for thrush, we do tend to see more thrush during and after wet seasons. The second factor is lack of exercise and poor hoof circulation, which goes hand-in-hand with the winter wet season."
In addition, some horses are predisposed to thrush if they have contracted heels, narrow feet, or hooves that are overgrown because they are not trimmed regularly. These horses should be monitored closely to make sure thrush is not allowed to get out of control.
When Georgette's 17-hand Belgian Warmblood, Zephyr, was on pasture layup for hoof ailments, she did extensive research on the best way to treat his white line disease, nicks, and cuts. There were a variety of chemical and natural remedies available, but Georgette was not happy with any of them. She was concerned about the effects of the chemicals on Zephyr and on her young daughter who assisted with his care. Her natural trimmer, Mike Lagrone, advised her that anything she applied to the sole of the foot would go into his bloodstream, and she knew harsh chemicals kill live tissues in the hoof, damage the frog, and cause pain for her horse.
"I have always been holistic in my care of my kids and pets," Georgette continues, "and as I have aged, I have became even more aware and educated about the dangers of chemical overload. I've read a lot about toxins and cancers and how everything from the food you ingest, to the products you apply, to the air you breathe can have major effects on your body. Everything I looked at for thrush and white line disease was toxic in my book. I wanted Zephyr cured, but I was not looking for a quick fix."
Her frustrations led her to research and develop her own thrush treatment that is both natural and effective. Using advice from her natural trimmer, her plant and pharmaceutical knowledge from obtaining a degree in Landscape Architecture and serving as the president and co-owner of a large pharmaceutical marketing company, Georgette created her anti-microbial hoof scrub from oregano oil, calendula, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, white willow, Oregon grape, and goldenseal.
Some horse owners may be concerned that natural products might not be as effective as the chemical ones, but Zephyr responded beautifully and was soon back in the show ring. In fact, he is now a top junior hunter in Southern California.
Even veterinarians agree with the natural approach. "If used early in the disease, natural products are more tissue friendly in general," Dr. Lauper comments. "In advanced stages, herbal and natural products alone may not be strong enough or specific enough the knock out the infection and debride/heal the damaged tissue, though I continue to use combination therapy in advanced cases to promote healing as aggressively as I can."
"My natural products strive to work with the horses’ body," Georgette says. "I created the Thrush & Hoof Fungus Spray, which is also effective on white line disease and seedy toe, with herbs that are known to eliminate bacterial and fungal infections. The herbs are powerful, but will not damage live tissue. They also work very quickly, as immediate as chemical thrush products, but without the side effects. It is not unusual for a horse owner to comment on how the thrush was gone within days of using my product and there was no reoccurrence, yet the frog is still healthy. In addition, the horse readily accepted the spraying of the hoof and no discomfort was noticed--frequently, a horse will stamp its feet in pain when someone applies a chemical remedy. If two products have the same effectiveness, it makes sense to me to choose the one that works best with your horses’ body."
Georgette's success with her thrush spray led her to create remedies for the cuts, bites, bruises and sweet itch--all things topical for a horse. Zephyr's Garden products are available at LA Saddlery or online at www.ZephyrsGarden.com.
Photos: A hoof infected with thrush, LEG Up News file photo; Georgette Topakas Photo: Kimerlee Curyl Photography