Weather and Hooves
A while back, I wrote an article on this study, which I recently found myself thinking about again, especially with all this wet weather we’ve been having lately. In fact, I had to move my horses back to their summer pasture due to Hershey developing an acute lameness. My winter pasture has a low-lying area near the barn which has held water for months now (need to install a French drain, but that’s another story.) I first assumed he had bruised soles, but have since discovered it’s a tendon injury. (My summer pasture has a run attached to each stall, which I will need to keep him in for a while, unfortunately.)
Wet weather tends to get blamed for many hoof problems, but it’s not the only type of weather which can have an effect on hooves. Let’s explore more.
As shown in the study mentioned above, wet conditions affect the sole of the hoof far more than the hoof wall. While some moisture is good for the hooves, too much can lead to (or exacerbate) thrush, fungal infections, and soft and tender soles. Therefore, it’s important to have an area for your horse to escape the wet ground, whether that be a dry stall or run-in, an area of pea gravel, or simply higher ground.
Cold temperatures often slow hoof growth. This is likely the result of decreased circulation due less movement. Horses aren’t moving around as much to graze and they may be ridden far less in cold weather as well. I honestly didn’t notice the slower hoof growth until I started trimming my horses myself. In winter, I can stretch trims out to every six weeks or so as opposed to every four weeks in warmer seasons.
Another issue with cold weather is frozen ground which can lead to bruised soles or other lameness issues (Hershey injured himself on the frozen ground). To make matters worse, the ground will often thaw during daylight hours and freeze again at night, creating a perpetual cycle that keeps your horse’s soles soft and prone to bruising when the ground hardens again. As I stated above, having an area where the hooves (soles) can dry out is essential to preventing problems in this case.
Horse hooves tend to fare better in drier environments and can typically retain an adequate amount of internal moisture (also shown in the study mentioned above). But just like how our skin can dry out when the weather is dry, the hooves may also develop some superficial dryness or cracks (not to mention become hard as stone!) It’s often recommended to let your water tank overflow a little to provide some moisture for the feet if your horses don’t have access to a pond or creek.
Interestingly enough, you may want to think twice before applying a hoof dressing to dry hooves, as discussed in this article. According the author, Susan Kempson, BSc, PhD, senior lecturer in Preclinical Veterinary, some topical dressings may make things worse.
According to Kempson’s studies examining how environmental conditions affect hoof wall integrity, “Heat, cold, and water had no effect on the permeability barrier. The sole and frog horn left in feces for two weeks disintegrated, and poor-quality wall horn was also badly affected. Good-quality wall horn was only marginally changed.”
Her conclusion aligns with something I’ve also come to believe: “As long as the horse has a well-balanced diet so that he can produce good-quality horn, leave the hoof horn to look after itself.”
In other words diet is the most essential factor in hoof health. And though having a dry-out place during wet weather is still very important, hooves which are already compromised as a result of poor diet and/or lack of routine care are much more prone to problems when adverse weather occurs.
What are your thoughts on weather and hooves? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
Sources and Further Reading