Cracked Heels in Horses - cause, treatment and prevention

apply antiseptic cream to cracked heels
Apply antiseptic to cracked
heels once they have been
washed and dried

Cracked Heels , sometimes known as greasy heel, are a common problem for horses and ponies.

Cracked heels usually occur in horses which are turned out in a field for part of the day - but a few wet muddy rides out can also trigger the problem.

Washing a horse's legs can also cause cracked heels if the legs are not dried thoroughly .

Cracked heels are not actually cracks in the heel of the foot!

It is an equine skin condition which occurs in the hollow of the pastern where the horse's skin is particularly delicate.

Horses with white legs are more likely to suffer from cracked heels.

Signs and symptoms of cracked heels

The first signs of cracked heels are scurf and scabs in the hollow of the pastern. Don't just look, but also feel for these every time that you pick you horse's feet out.

If you spot these symptoms early you should be able to treat the problem before it gets serious.

If cracked heels aren't spotted in time the scabs may increase and can eventually cover a wide area.

When the scabs fall off, painful cracks will show underneath and may cause the horse to go lame.

Because the cracks are so low down the leg they can easily become infected.

It is quite tricky to apply dressings, and get them to stay on, to this part of the horse's leg. So if you can avoid letting the condition get to this stage so much the better.

Some horse owners refer to cracked heels as Mud Fever which is a similar condition generally affecting the horse higher up his legs

How to treat a horse with cracked heels

The first step in treating equine cracked heels is to bring the horse or pony into a clean dry area.

The scurf and scabs should then be washed off with a warm antiseptic solution. This may not be easy as the horse will be quite sore in this area and may not like you touching his legs.

If your horse is fairly hairy with a lot of feathers it may be best to to trim his heels. Although the thick hair does give some protection to the legs in wet conditions it will make washing and drying the legs more difficult and may slow down the healing process.

When the heels are completely dry - use a hairdryer if necessary - apply a thick layer of equine antiseptic healing cream or ointment.

If possible keep the horse or pony stabled - unless you have a dry paddock or area to turn him in.

As well as preventing infection the cream will moisturise and soothe the heels in the same way that hand cream helps chapped skin in humans.

If your horse isn't lame he can be exercised but try not to ride across muddy fields and tracks.


How to avoid and prevent cracked heels

A few basic precautions can help to prevent cracked heels:

  • Spread a light coating of vaseline, petroleum jelly udder cream or baby oil over the horse's lower leg before you turn him out in wet muddy conditions. This will act as a protective barrier.
  • Always dry your horse or pony's legs.
  • If your stands by a muddy gateway waiting to be brought in spread a clean bale of straw to soak up the worst of the water and mud.


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