Scratches can appear on lower legs, many times in the heel area above the hoof. Patches of scurf appear beneath hair and look matted and crusty. Under the scurf the skin will be red and oozing. Scratches is also called mud fever, or greasy heel.
Cracked skin in the pastern areas can be difficult to heel since the area is always flexing as the horse walks. Left untreated the skin can become deeply cracked and infected.
Scratches can occur if pastures and paddocks are muddy where it may be hard to provide a place where the horse’s hoofs and legs aren’t wet. If the horse’s legs are constantly damp, that gives the bacteria a place to thrive. Scratches may be more prevalent in the spring when pastures are muddy from snowmelt and rain, and again in the fall when the weather is wet.
To prevent scratches, keep your horse in clean, dry conditions. Keep stalls clean and don’t allow dampness from urine to build up. Keep paddocks and pastures free of manure build-up, and improve drainage if mud is a problem. Scratches can be treated by clipping the hair, washing away any dirt or scabs with an antiseptic soap, and using a topical antiseptic or zinc oxide based cream. Great Lakes Equine also carries a topical medication specifically to treat scratches. Make sure the area clean and dry and continue treating until the condition is gone and keep the horse in a clean dry area to prevent recurrence. Sometimes more aggressive debriding of the scabs and treatment with antibiotics is needed. For this it is best to have your veterinarian examine the horse.