Written by Drew Morales, CJF
As the leaves drop from the trees and that cold breeze greets you in the morning, you know winter is on the way. Before the really cold weather sets in, now is a great time to think about how to prepare and keep your horse’s hooves in good condition during the winter.
Whether your horse is shod or barefoot, this article will give you some insight from a full time farrier on the simple ways to keep your horse healthy throughout the winter as well as explain some common winter hoof care practices.
Keys to Healthy Winter Hooves
1. Keep picking those feet
Although the snow and frost may cover up your pastures, the bacteria that causes thrush and other hoof issues are still present. Furthermore, rocks, ice and debris can still become trapped in the hoof and cause your horse to slip on slick surfaces. Simply keeping your horse’s hooves clean will go a long way to maintaining their overall health, even in winter months.
2. Maintain a regular hoof care schedule
The cold does slow down hoof growth in many horses, but the need for regular trimming and or shoeing is still necessary. Maintenance should be done on a 6-8 week basis for most unshod horses and more frequently for horses in shoes. Consult with your farrier to determine the best schedule. Neglect is one of the most common ways that your horse can develop lameness issues.
Common Winter Practices
1. Using Traction Devices
The use of traction devices is common in winter months when horses are shod. There are a variety of traction aids on the market. Some of the most common are borium, drill and tapped studs (which can be removed), and drive in studs (cannot be removed). I will briefly discuss each below. With the use of any of these traction devices, I strongly recommend splint boots or other protective coverings to be worn while riding.
A. Borium is a carbide steel that is brazed onto the shoes and is very hard. Many times the shoes will wear out before the borium does.
The traction offered by borium is quite good and often used on horses that ride on asphalt and other road surfaces. The disadvantages of borium is that it cannot be removed igf the horse has too much traction, and other horses if kicked, can be seriously injured due to carbide having rough and sometimes sharp edges. If you choose borium, ensure your horse is not apt to kick or fight if kept in a large paddock with other horses.
B. Drill and Tapped Studs are traction devices that can be removed by the owner. Studs are applied after the farrier drills holes in the back 1/3 of the shoe, closer to the heels, and uses a tapping drill bit to enable the studs to be hand threaded into the shoes. The benefit of dill and tapped studs is that the owner can choose how much traction they desire based on the height and width of the caulks, and they can be removed when not riding. The disadvantages are that the stud holes can often become trapped with dirt or ice, so ensure your farrier uses cotton or stud plugs to minimize that from happening.
C. Drive-In Studs are smaller pin like projections that are placed in the shoes permanently. They offer less traction than borium or drill and tapped studs. The benefit of drive in studs is that the owner does not have to spend time re-applying or removing them before or after a ride. The disadvantage are that they cannot be removed, so again caution must be used when stabling a horse in a larger paddock.
2. Snow Pads
As the name implies, snow pads are used in areas that receive heavy snowfall. Horses in shoes can often have snow and ice become trapped in with the shoe and make it very dangerous if the horse is on a slick surface. These pads are applied under the shoe, and prevent the snow from massing in the hoof and being stuck.
In sum, a change in temperature should not really change your routine in regards to hoofcare. Keeping your horse’s feet clean and on a regular schedule with your farrier will generally prevent any issues from occurring. If you keep your horse in shoes and ride in winter months, talk to your farrier about the use of traction devices and or snow pads. Winter offers equestrians a nice break from the summer heat, so now that you have a little more info on proper winter hoofcare, try not to let the snow and cold prevent you from enjoying your horse.
Drew Morales has been shoeing horses since 2006. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier, through the American Farriers Association, and maintains his business based out of Richmond, VA.