Whether your horse is kept in a field or stable, it’s important to pick their feet out at least once a day. This helps to prevent a build-up of bacteria in the hoof causing problems such as thrush. It also helps to remove any debris such as stones which could cause bruising to the sole.
Horses’ hooves grow all year round, but this growth slows down during the winter. It could be easy to assume that the farrier may not need to visit as often, but it’s crucial to keep up with your usual routine to prevent cracks and chips. This also means the hoof and pastern angles remain balanced.
The hoof wall can often soften during winter due to absorbing too much moisture. If possible, provide an area of hard standing out of the mud and wet or bring horses in for periods of time to allow the hooves to dry out.
The chance of an abscess occurring can increase during winter as the hoof is continually expanding and contracting with weather conditions, potentially trapping in bacteria1. Signs of an abscess could include a sudden onset of severe lameness, or if an abscess has been forming over some time it may burst, often at the coronet band (where the top of the hoof wall meets the skin). If you’re concerned that your horse may have an abscess speak with your farrier or vet for advice.
A winter hoof issue you may face with your horse is ‘snowballing’. This is where snow becomes packed into the horse’s hoof, leaving them walking on a solid frozen mass. Slushier and dry snow won’t compact well and is more likely to fall away from the foot, however, be extra cautious in more dense and wet snow, as snowballing is more likely to occur.
The formation of a snowball can be uncomfortable for your horse, as the pressure can cause bruising of the sensitive sole. There’s also a danger of the horse slipping and falling as they are forced to walk on an elevated and uneven surface. This could potentially cause strain to the tendons and ligaments.
Removing these frozen masses can be difficult, however by taking the following precautions you can help prevent them forming:
Removing shoes: Wet snow meeting the cold metal of your horse’s shoes can cause the snow to freeze and therefore compact as ice. If you’re reducing your ridden work over winter, you may want to talk to your farrier about whether having your horse’s shoes removed would be appropriate. Monitor how your horse is coping and if you have any concerns, contact your farrier.
Protective barrier: Applying petroleum jelly or hoof oil around the inside of the shoe and the sole of the foot helps to create a barrier and may prevent the snow freezing in your horse’s hoof. This will likely only have an effect for a short period as the petroleum jelly or oil will eventually wear off.
Hoof boots: These can be an option to keep the snow out and your horse’s feet dry. Make sure the boots fit your horse correctly. Boots should be removed daily and monitored to make sure they are not causing any rubbing or soreness. If your horse is shod, choose a boot that can be worn over shoes.
- Kentucky Equine Research. (2018) Winter Hoof Care.
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