Mud Fever

Posted on July 12, 2022

Mud, not so glorious, mud!

What is mud fever?

Mud fever occurs around the horse’s pasterns, hence it’s also known as pastern dermatitis. It’s caused by a variety of bacteria which live in the soil, and when our fields become chopped up, muddy and wet, the bacteria is more easily transmitted.

This bacteria gets into the horse’s body via compromised areas of skin. This could be from a cut or wound, a bite, rubbing from equipment such as an overreach boot, or just via skin that has softened due to constant wet conditions.

The best way to combat mud fever is to keep your horse’s legs as clean and dry as possible and make sure everything they wear fits comfortably. If their skin isn’t compromised, there will be less chance of the bacteria causing an infection. 

What does it look like?

You’ll start to see multiple crusty scabs on your horse’s pasterns, under which will be a discharge over the infected skin. This is where the bacteria thrives and multiplies; living in the warm, epidermal layers ready to start an infection.

Because the pastern joint gets a lot of movement, it can be hard to quickly heal the affected areas and so you may notice heat or swelling too. However, by checking their legs daily and taking action as soon as you can, you can clear up an infection before it gets too bad.

How can we prevent mud fever? 

  • Check legs daily to spot any signs of infection – early treatment limits discomfort for your horse
  • Restrict muddy areas, especially around gateways and troughs where you know your horse will spend hours standing. Cover them with a suitable material such as woodchip, or use electric fencing to move the position of the gateway throughout the winter months.
  • Keep your horse’s legs dry as much as possible. Use boots when turned out or a barrier cream applied over dry, clean legs. Be very careful not to apply cream over waterlogged skin, as this will just create an environment for the bacteria to grow.
  • Bring your horse in at night, if possible, so that the skin has a chance to dry out each day. If an infection is already present, this may be the only option to get on top of it.
  • Ensure bedding is clean and won’t irritate their legs further.
  • Don’t overwash or groom the legs too vigorously.
  • Always make sure legs are clean and dry before using boots or bandages.
  • Be careful in the menage – sand surfaces are abrasive and can irritate delicate skin areas.

What should you do if your horse gets mud fever?

Firstly, if you’re not sure it’s mud fever, call your vet for an assessment. You don’t want to be treating the wrong thing.

Treating mud fever is quite a repetitive process until it starts to clear up. Bad cases can take a good few weeks to get rid of.

Wash the legs with a gentle, antiseptic cleanser (such as Hibiscrub) diluted down with warm water and then dry thoroughly. Kitchen towel is good for blotting away moisture.

Use a thick layer of barrier cream over the area. Always test a small patch before using for the first time. If your horse is stabled, you can use stable bandages overnight (not too tight) to help loosen the scabs and keep the area protected.

Carefully remove any scabs before you apply more barrier cream and make sure the legs are clean every time – otherwise you’ll just be harbouring the nasty bacteria!

Once all the scabs are gone you can leave the area dry at night to let it breathe, but you can still use a cream during turnout until everything has fully healed, or as a preventative measure. 

Some Comfy Horse inspiration to help you stay sane in the rain!

Focus on drying:

Henry Wag Noodle Glove

Made with soft, highly absorbent microfibre, the Henry Wag Noodle Glove Towel makes cleaning and drying simple. It is effective in removing dirt and water from a horse’s lower legs reducing the risks of infection and sores.

Focus on creams:

Natural Equine Mud Derm ointment

What’s in it: It’s a unique concentrated blend of essential oils and herbal extracts in natural beeswax, naturally forming a protective barrier, whilst aiding and soothing the effects of winter related skin irritation.

Application: Once daily

Natural Equine Barrier Relief

What’s in it: 100% natural containing beeswax, shea butter, essential oils, calendula and coconut oil, it provides an effective barrier against wet and muddy conditions, whilst still allowing the skin to breathe.

Application: Apply daily and wash off once a week with shampoo. This cream can be used on its own or in conjunction with the above ointment.

For exercise (suitable for up to 4 hours at a time):

HorseSox™ 2 Yard Pack

HorseSox provide unobtrusive protection to your horse’s legs while at work. Made of a stretchable and breathable stockinette, HorseSox aid in keeping legs clean; offering protection for horses prone to leg irritations (often caused by dirt and debris build up), scratches, boot rubs or those with minor leg abrasions.

For our full range of products, go to and search ‘mud fever’.