What are "FEATHERS" ?????
Feathers are considered the long, silky hair below the knees and hocks on the lower half of the legs, while the hair that actually lays over the foot is sometimes known as "spats". In most cases when someone talks of their horse 'feather' it is all-inclusive of hair on the lower legs whether on the leg, foot, or over the hoof. Both spats and feathers can easily break off due to tall weeds, dry weather, etc.
Shire Clydesdale Drum
Dales Pony Fell Pony
Heavily feathered horses usually include the: Gypsy, Shire, Friesian, Clydesdale, Drum, Ardennes, Dales Pony, & Fell Pony. Horses of these breeds would be considered for membership in the FFHS (Feathered Friends Horse Society). There are always exceptions i.e. although most Drum horses have heavy feathering, some are only lightly feathered.
What is considered a Lightly feathered horse would include the:
The number one way, is to have the right breed of horse and good genetics but even with the best genes, if you don't properly care for the feathers, you can lose them. Muddy pastures, dry weather, weeds, and kicking/biting at flies, will easily break and wear the feather off.
The general health of the horse is t
The stall where the horse is kept needs to be reasonably clean and not too wet to provide beneficial surroundings for satisfactory feather care. Too dry is as bad as too wet, though some moisture will help in foot maintenance. Also, the utmost care must be taken when washing, drying, or otherwise grooming your horses' feathers. (more on this below)
Example of broken feather shown below.
Feathers are above hooves and shortened in back. In this example it was caused by grazing in tall, dry grass. It takes a full year to grow out IF broken all the way to the coronet (top of hoof).
Feathers are truly impressive when they are long, silky, white and flowing. If that result is your goal, a great deal of dedica-tion and work will need to be taken to achieve it.
Note: All products used on your horse should be done with the direction and help of a licensed veterinarian. Horses, like people, can have allergic reactions to ingredients and chemicals that they come in contact with. When using new ingredients or chemicals on your horse, do so with awareness of the possibility of these reactions. Observe your horse carefully.
A good practice used to help the feathers stay soft and supple AND allow for growth - while still providing some protection, is the use of an oil and sulfur mix once a week. Dry or very muddy areas make the treatment needed more often. If the legs are very dirty or need to be treated for scratches, it is beneficial to wash before oiling (Original Dawn is recommended). This gets rid of the dirt and allows the oil to penetrate better. The oil will attract dust and dirt which will make the legs look dirty for a while, but it is doing its job. Once washed off the feathers will be soft, silky and white.
Ingredients: White or Clear Mineral Oil Dusting/Floured Sulfur NOTE: USE ONLY FOOD GRADE SULFUR AND OIL (Below is a link to a well-priced 50lb source for food grade sulfur).
Supplies: A decent sized bucket or pail with a tight-fitting lid A pair of rubber gloves - A breathing mask
!! CAUTION !
Dusting sulphur is highly flammable and detrimental to breathe into your lungs. Always wear a mask when mixing and keep away from open flames.
Blend the two ingredients above until you have the consistency of oatmeal or a milkshake. Add oil first to your container and stir in sulfur until you reach the texture desired. Usually an oatmeal consistency but the thicker the feather the thinner the mix in order to get into the skin.
Oil your feathers once a week as needed with the mixture listed above - always pull the mixture down the leg through the feather starting at the knee or hock and working to the hoof head - Never pull the hair up. Get as much of the mixture to the skin as possible.
Place the mix on the feather by using your gloved hands and rubbing through the feather all the way onto the skin. Allowing the oil to run over the hoof and rubbing it into the hoof also is beneficial. The oil and sulfur act as a conditioner. When done your horse's legs and feather will be yellow & oily, but when you wash them for show they will be silky, soft, white (that is, if they are white colored) and very pretty. Note: All products used on your horse should be done with the direction and help of a licensed veterinarian. Horses, like people, can have allergic reactions to ingredients and chemicals with which they come in contact. When using new ingredients or chemicals on your horse, do so with acute awareness of these possible reactions.
When done your horse's legs and feather will be yellow & oily, but when you wash them for show they will be silky, soft, white (that is, if they are white colored) and very pretty.
Note: All products used on your horse should be done with the direction and help of a licensed veterinarian. Horses, like people, can have allergic reactions to ingredients and chemicals with which they come in contact. When using new ingredients or chemicals on your horse, do so with acute awareness of these possible reactions.
A condition characterized by progressive swelling, hyperkeratosis and fibrosis of distal limbs has been characterized in Shires, Clydesdales and Belgian Draft horses and unfortunately affects numerous horses within these breeds. The disease has also been recognized in Gipsy Vanners; however, only a few horses have been evaluated at this point of time. This chronic progressive disease starts at an early age, progresses throughout the life of the horse and often ends in disfigurement and disability of the legs, which inevitably leads to the horse's premature death. The pathologic changes and clinical signs closely resemble a condition known in humans as chronic lymphedema or elephantiasis nostras verrucosa. The condition has therefore been referred to as chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL). The lower leg swelling is caused by abnormal functioning of the lymphatic system in the skin, which results in chronic lymphedema (swelling), fibrosis, decreased perfusion, a compromised immune system and subsequent secondary infections of the skin.
The clinical signs of this disease are highly variable. It is often first addressed as a marked and “therapy-resistant” pastern dermatitis (scratches). The earliest lesions, however, are characterized by skin thickening, slight crusting and possible skin folds in the pastern area. While readily palpable, these early lesions are often not appreciated visually as the heavy feathering in these breeds covers these areas. Upon clipping of the lower legs, it becomes obvious that the lesions are far more extensive than expected. Secondary infections develop very easily in these horse's legs and usually consist of chorioptic mange and/or bacterial infections. Pigmented and non-pigmented skin of the lower legs are affected. Appropriate treatment of the infections (pastern dermatitis) is not successful as underlying poor perfusion, lymphedema and hyperkeratosis in association with the heavy feathering present perfect conditions for repetitive infections with both chorioptic mange as well as bacterial infections. Recurrent infections and inflammation will enhance the lymphedema and hence, the condition becomes more chronic. As a result, the lower leg enlargement becomes permanent and the swelling firm on palpation. More thick skin folds and large, poorly defined, firm nodules develop. The nodules may become quite large and often are described as "golf ball" or even "baseball" in size. Both skin folds and nodules first develop in the back of the pastern area. With progression, they may extend and encircle the entire lower leg. The nodules become a mechanical problem because they interfere with free movement and frequently are injured during exercise. This disease often progresses to include massive secondary infections that produce copious amounts of foul-smelling exudates, generalized illness, debilitation and even death.
Please keep in mind that none of these treatments listed below will “heal” chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL). However, a rigorous management following our suggestions below will assist you to slow down the process and even make some of the nodular lesions disappear. Your horse will need this management the rest of its life.
• Clipping of the feathers
Long and dense feathering makes management of lymphedema more difficult. We highly recommend clipping the feathers and keep them short, if horses are not presented at shows. If you have a show horse, we still recommend to clip the feathers to initiate a rigorous treatment. As the skin condition improves and the edema is reducing - you may have a better chance to keep the horse's legs in better condition by. careful repetitive treatment, while the feathering is growing back. The feathers are usually back to their original length in about 10-12 months.
• Treatment of skin infections
Progression of lymphedema is also associated with deposition of fibrous tissue and formation of fibrotic nodules.. As a result, these horses have a poor blood circulation and immune response in the skin of their legs. They tend to built up a thick keratin layer. The long feathering further occludes the skin surface, which then remains humid. These factors provide the perfect culture environment for infectious pathogens. This explains why horses with CPL constantly battle recurrent infections with mites (Chorioptic mange) and bacterial infections (Staphylococcus, Dermatophilus).
Horses with CPL should consistently be treated against reinfestation of mites and bacteria.
• Careful washing, cleaning and drying of the legs on a routine basis is essential. Horses with long feathering may require blow-drying of their legs. We recommend using a product manufactured by HydroSurge Inc. ( www.hydrosurge.com ) called Apricot Sulfur Skin Treatment Shampoo.
• Frontline spray to treat chorioptic mange (do not use Frontline on pregnant and nursing mares)
• The best and most economical topical treatment is to find a source of wettable sulfur powder (“flowers of sulfur”). This can usually be found through a vineyard supply or at your local nursery (certain “rose dust” preparations). Mix this powder with mineral oil in to form a creamy paste. You can mix a moderate amount in a plastic lidded container or glass jar so that you have enough to last 2-4 weeks at a time. Apply this mixture to the ulcerated and/or affected areas of skin daily. This preparation is the best and most economical topical treatment we have found. You can use it indefinitely. Sulfur is safe to use in pregnant mares.
Systemic antiparasitic treatment: Frequent ivermectine treatment will also assist to keep the mites away.
Regular exercise is crucial. It will increase the circulation and the lymph drainage.
• Manual Lymph-drainage
Manual lymph-drainage is regularly used in humans with lymphedema as long as there is no inflammation present within the tissue. MLD has been successfully used in horses with more acute lymphedema, but has not been established yet in horses with progressed CPL. A massaging coldwater stream may assist a massage. It is important to dry the skin before applying anything else after massage and rinsing. If the feathers were not clipped this may take a long time and you may have to use a hair dryer. Your horse may become more compliant to this treatment as swelling reduces over time
• Bandaging and stockings
We have some limited experience with using special bandages developed for people with lymphedema. For horses, which always move around, “short-stretch” bandages should be used (example: Rosidal ®). Short stretch bandages have been successfully used in three horses with clipped feathering; but bandaging was not as successful on horses with long feathers. Of course it is crucial to have very good padding and keeping the bandages fairly tight. If tolerated, the best results will be achieved by keeping the bandages on 24/7. Of course they need to be redone at least every other day - better every day to control the legs. At first, there will be oozing from the lymphedema through the skin - so the bandages will get wet and have to be changed every day. With the reduction of the edema - this will stop. If the horse is only walked quietly the bandages can be left on for the exercise; very likely the legs have to be rewrapped after the exercise as the swelling will somewhat reduce. For more exercise it may be better to take the bandages off, use working bandages and then switch back to the short–stretch bandages after work. Again make sure the skin is dry when you rewrap.
After the edema has been reduced by using bandages - stockings are used for people to maintain avoid recurrence of lympedema. The use of such stockings in horses are currently under investigation.
It should be noted that horses suffering from CPL often are susceptible to reapeated bouts of “Thrush”. Consequently, thorough and routine foot trimming care is an essential part of the health care management for these horses.