3 Equine skin conditions that benefit from clipping
THE PROBLEM WITH FEATHERS
There’s nothing quite like the sight of long flowing feathers on heavy horses and cobs but these furnishings can be troublesome. Unfortunately for many heavier breeds and in part, because of the damp but mild weather conditions here in the UK along with muddy turnout, feathers can be the bain of many owners of these breeds. Feathers can play host to feather mites, increase the incidence of mud fever, hide injuries or other issues such as chronic pulmonary lympodema.
In these cases, removing the feathers by clipping can aid treating and managing the legs. Removing the bulk of the hair on the lower legs not only allows for us to see and manage the legs much easier but also makes the application of topical creams easier to treat skin conditions and lets air circulate to keep the skin dry and healthy.
MALLENDERS AND SALLENDERS
Mallenders and sallenders are cracked, itchy skin conditions of the lower legs caused by an overproduction of keratin leading to thickened skin (hyperkeratosis). They are very common in heavy and feathered breeds of horses, such as the traditional cob, shire and Freisian. The name of each condition refers to where they are found on the horse with Mallenders forming on the back of the knee and Sallenders appearing on the front of the hock. Their occurrence is usually related to a history of feather mites and once these scabby areas form it is very difficult to eradicate completely. To manage these conditions, ideally the hair in the affected areas needs to be kept short so that skin can be easily monitored and kept clean. Topical ointments can then be more easily applied to keep the area moisturised.
When trimming the hair however, care needs to be taken not to clip too short over the crusted areas of the leg to knock off the scabs. A medium or coarse blade or a lighter trimmer may be best for these areas. Our Showmate II is perfect for keeping small areas of the legs trimmed and is normally tolerated very well to due it’s low vibration and quietness. Heavy or medium duty clippers may be required to clip the remaining feathers to reduce the incidence of feather mites.
Chorioptic mange mites, also known as ‘feather mites’, are a surface-dwelling mite that feed mostly on the skin debris of feathered horses and are not visible to the naked eye. Feather mites usually only affect the lower legs and can be uncomfortable for the horse. Common symptoms are itching, stamping and rubbing of the legs which can lead to an increased risk of injury and trauma to the skin. Complete removal of the feather by clipping can make the legs less hospitable for the mites to thrive and removes the dander and skin debris that the mites feed on. With the feathers clipped short, topical treatments can be more easily and thoroughly applied. Feather mites are also very difficult to eliminate completely so keeping the feathers short with regular clipping can help to manage the condition and facilitate grooming. A heavy or medium duty clipper, depending on the thickness of the hair are best for the complete removal of the feathers. They can then be kept on top of by using the Showmate II trimmer once the bulk of the hair is removed.
Legs clipped using the cordless HD Roamer clippers by Jessika Gidney @jg_equestrian
CHRONIC PROGRESSIVE LYMPHOEDEMA (CPL)
This can be a debilitating condition which is caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the lower legs which result in progressive swelling with associated skin folds, nodules and ulcerations. It is more common in draught type horses such as shires and Clydesdales. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, and it requires careful management and ongoing clipping to help identify any lesions and allow for more effective topical treatment. Removing feathers can also ensure compression bandages can be applied evenly. Extra care must be given when clipping horses with CPL not to catch the nodules of skin. Medium A5 clipper blades and longer blades are best for clipping horses with CPL with a medium duty clipper such as our cordless MD Roamer or Royale. It’s important not to clip right in between deep folds as the regrowth will be uncomfortable and itchy for your horse. Take care not to use skip tooth blades for clipping horses with CPL to avoid catching the nodules and nicking the skin.
With the feathers regularly clipped, CPL can be improved with consistent care over time. Image by @CBS Equine
TOP TIPS FOR CLIPPING HORSES WITH SKIN CONDITIONS
Extra care should always be taken when clipping the legs. Wear a hat, have a second handler available and keep your body in the safest positions to avoid a kick. If your horse is happy to have their legs clipped a heavy-duty clipperwill quickly remove the hair with ease. A coarse or medium blade is best for feathers and will leave a short enough length whilst providing a little extra protection if your horse lives out.
For more sensitive horses, our medium duty clippers are ideal. The shorter handset length makes them easier to manoeuvre around the contours of leg and heels. Medium clippers also are quieter with less vibration so are better tolerated for itchy or tickly legs too. They are compatible with a range of A5 clipper blades to give a wide choice of length of clip with wide or narrow widths to easily get around the trickier areas of the heels and fetlocks.
Many horses will not tolerate a heavy or even medium duty clipper on the legs because of a lack of muscle to cushion these areas from the vibration of the clippers. The feel of the full vibration on their bones can feel uncomfortable and strange for them, particularly if they already have itchy or sore legs and if any of the above conditions are present. For these horses that are super sensitive, sedation may be necessary to keep you and your horse safe. Even with sedation, do be mindful that even a sedated horse can still react. It’s best to talk to your vet about the sedation options available. If you are unsure if your horse has CPL under their feathers, use a medium duty clipper and take time to remove the hair carefully. If you are bringing a professional in to clip your horse, do let them know if you suspect any skin conditions may be present and if your horse is likely to react.
- Carry a spare set of clipper blades
- Ensure your blades are sharp so they don’t snag the hair
- Try to groom the feathers as much as possible before clipping and make sure they are dry.
- Try to not clip right in between deep folds (especially in a horse with CPL) as the regrowth will be uncomfortable and itchy.
- Bull nose scissors can be useful for carefully trimming hair in very delicate areas.
- Check frequently that the clipper blades are not getting hot – regular use (every 3-5 minutes) of the Andis 5-in-1 cool care spray will help prevent this from happening along with ensuring the tension on heavy duty clippers is set as loose as possible.
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