THRUSH and other NASTIES in the HEELS

If ya got horse, ya got thrush somewhere along the line.

I don’t know of any horse, out of thousands with which I’ve worked over the years, that did not get ‘Thrush’ at one time or another.

Many times, fungus and thrush go hand in hand … or, erm, hoof in hoof.

Let’s first define the differences between the two and then look at the connection between them.

THRUSH is a BACTERIA. Formally known as Fusobacterium necrophorum.

One will first notice it when cleaning out the horse’s hooves.  There will be a nose-wrinkling, foul odor to the black, tarry substance (exudate) that is taken out of the collateral grooves.  Thrush is anaerobic meaning it thrives in areas with no oxygen/air. It also loves to hide in dank, dark crevices with it simply eats away at susceptible tissue. Horses with deep collateral grooves or narrow, contracted heels are more at risk of getting Thrush.

While cleaning out the hooves you may notice that the hoof just crumbles inordinately. (This is different than normal exfoliation of horn.) The horse may even be lame suggesting that the thrush has eaten its way into sensitive parts of the hoof and you may even notice the hoof bleeding simply from cleaning with a hoof pick.

Not good. Not for the horse and certainly an added task to your daily horse care!

Accompanying contracted hoofs sometimes results in a crevice between the heel bulbs – an open crack that is highly sensitive when picked. 

The exudate that is removed from this area is usually white material resembling a very small cottage cheese and has the odor of cheese as well.  It doesn’t have the offensive ‘knock-me-over-with-a-feather’ odor that one smells with Thrush.

This, my friend, is a yeast infection. Not a bacterium but a fungus that THRIVES on dead bacteria!  This, too, loves dark, damp, anaerobic places to hide just like what one sees in that crevice between the heels bulbs.

Unfortunately, yeast infection in horses’ hooves is not commonly recognized. This leads to treatment for the thrush but not the yeast. So the yeast proliferates like crazy. Your horse will become more and more sensitive and sore even though the thrush is clearing up.  For those of you who are using ‘sugardyne’ treatment, be aware that yeast also thrives on SUGAR!  Yep – good ole sugar. So while killing the bacteria with sugar, you are giving those little fungi a wonderful banquet on which to grow and reproduce.

Not good.

So what is the horses’ humans to do?

First, recognize that yeast is a systemic situation meaning, if the yeast is in the hooves then it’s in the rest of the body as well.  The WHOLE horse must be treated! Remove ALL sugar from the diet and reformulate for healing inside-out and strengthening the immune system. Combine this with exemplary hoof cleaning and yard cleaning to be able to offer your horse the cleanest environment possible.

Secondly, the thrush needs to be attacked and this, too, can be a whole body response as well as a simple topical that will kill BOTH thrush AND yeast.

A good soak in a cider-vinegar/water will help to kill both the yeast and the bacteria. Then, a mixture of either ‘mud’ (I make my own proprietary mix with zinc ointment, minerals, infused and essential oils) or one that is made from 50/50 combination of antibiotic ointment and athlete’s foot ointment can be injected (syringe only - NO needle!) into the crack in the heel bulbs. This is used by Pete Ramey (photo to the left) and has proven over and over again to be most effective.  There is also a commercial dry udder mastitis treatment that one can purchase at a livestock supply store containing “cephapirin benzathine’ drug that will clear up the thrush and the yeast in just a couple of applications.

This is not intended, of course, to supersede your own veterinarian or hoofcare practitioner’s advice … only to bring awareness so, perhaps, when that stubborn case of thrush fails to clear up you might think and take another look to see if, perhaps, your horse also is suffering from yeast infection in the hoof.

You can find more info on hoofcare here: and

Good day and good weekend to y’all! 





Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:



I need more detailed instructions regarding the apple cider vinegar/water rinse (proportions, process). Do I then dry off the hoof before applying Pete’s goo? How do I cover the hoof to protect dirt from getting into where the goo is? I have a mule with one front hoof I’ve been fighting thrush for over 2 years, it comes and goes even with daily hoof picking. I have only a dry lot that is rocky and fine dusty dirt. She has no sugars and is on 24/7 turnout (dry) and is otherwise healthy. She has remained sound throughout the thrush, thankfully. She has always been barefoot and the other 3 hooves are textbook perfect.

Karen Johnson March 19, 2017

Hi Theresa! If you would email your email address to me, I’d be happy to help you out. :)

Gwenyth Santagate July 11, 2016

My horse has had this for years, can’t get rid of it, I’ve used peroxide, eucalyptus oil and creams, please send me full recipe and instructions if the advice given above, need to clear it up!!

Theresa Ramsden July 08, 2016

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