Winter's snow, ice, and mud can present hoof care challenges for horse owners. Bryan Fraley, DVM, whose Fraley and Taydus Equine Podiatry service is associated with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, offers a few tips to help keep your horse sound and healthy:
If possible, Fraley recommends giving shod horses a break from shoes and letting them go barefoot for a couple of months. Winter is generally a good time to do this if the horse's show schedule, hoof quality, and hoof health allow it. Fraley likes to sculpt the edges of the hoof wall with the fine side of the rasp so the perimeter of the hoof is smooth and rounded to minimize chipping and cracking on hard frozen ground.
Horses that remain in shoes might require the addition of snow pads. Without these, snow can accumulate under the shoes and ball up, causing sole pressure and bruising. They can also place added strain on soft tissue structures, such as the deep digital flexor tendon and the collateral ligaments of the coffin and pastern joints.
Horses living in areas prone to ice in and around the paddocks and barns might require borium or drive-in studs on the bottom of their shoes. These provide much needed traction and improve safety for both the horse and rider.
In many parts of the country, mud is a bigger challenge than snow and ice. Fraley generally recommends that horse owners pick out the feet of horses living in extremely muddy conditions and stable the animals on dry shavings for 12 hours each day. This gives the feet a chance to dry out and minimizes problems with thrush infections.
Hoof growth tends to slow in the winter months. It is not uncommon to extend the shoeing interval by one to two weeks in winter months for some horses. Ask your farrier if this approach is right for your horse.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.