Winter Barefoot Hoof Care
It’s no secret that many horse owners aren’t fond of winter. Cold temperatures, rain, and snow aren’t especially ideal for spending time in the barn or on your horse’s back. Breaking ice in water troughs or ponds and dealing with frozen water hoses aren’t too enjoyable either. But alas, we love our horses, so we deal with it, right?
Besides dealing with the above, there are a few other things which might require a little more diligence in winter, and one of them is staying on top of hoof care.
I remember when I was keeping my horses shod (and often still competing in winter), one of my main concerns was ice balls that would form in their feet during snowy weather. I was always terrified they’d fall and break a leg. Now, of course, I don’t have that issue because my horses are barefoot year-round. A little snow may pack itself into the collateral grooves, but nothing dangerous. Problem solved!
Most farriers recommend a break from shoeing in winter because horses have better traction if they’re barefoot on snow and ice (duh!) and it’s also “good” to give the hooves a break from nails and shoes. There’s no doubt that barefoot is definitely ideal in winter (and all year long, in my opinion!) But even with barefoot horses, here are a few things to be aware of during the winter months:
Hoof growth slows down in winter. In fact, due to holiday travel and extremely frigid temperatures, I recently fell behind on my four-week trimming schedule. I was concerned that this might cause some problems, but when I went to trim two of my horses, I noticed the growth was still similar to what it’s like at the four-week mark, even though six or seven weeks had passed. This is a welcome sight when you’re trimming your own horses (or footing the bill for someone else to trim them!) However, because of cold or muddy weather (or less riding), we may fall behind on inspecting hooves regularly. So even though you’re riding and trimming less, don’t forget to check out the underside of those hooves on a regular basis!
Frozen ground can create problems for some horses. You may notice your horse moving slower or even coming up lame during winter, especially if they’re still transitioning to barefoot. Sole bruises can even occur in some instances. If this happens, I recommend using hoof boots and pads even in the pasture. This can make a huge difference in the comfort level of your horse.
Thrush also tends to be more common in wet, cold weather. This is because horses may be confined more than usual, or perhaps aren’t moving around as much. You should check your horse’s feet at least weekly and keep an eye out for thrush. Also despite common belief, thrush isn’t always smelly and nasty-looking. If you see a deep crevice in the center of your horse’s frog, this is thrush, and it should be treated. The easiest way I’ve found to treat is with a syringe. I’ve used “Pete’s Goo”, which is a 50/50 combination of athlete’s foot cream and triple antibiotic, but lately, I’ve been trying out a natural product called Evo Thrush.
Don’t neglect trace mineral supplementation in the winter. While this may not sound like it has much to do with hooves, diet is actually a huge factor in hoof health. In fact, any deficiency in the diet will likely show up in the hooves at some point. There are many options when it comes to feeding minerals, but you can safely assume most hays/ grasses are deficient in copper and zinc, both of which are very important in hoof health. Supplements and feeds with large amounts of iron should be avoided (iron reduces the absorption of zinc, among other problems). If you’re noticing a decline in hoof health, other nutrients to pay attention to include fatty acids, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, and B vitamins. Check your current supplements or feeds to make sure these are covered. Just be careful with selenium since it is has a very low toxicity level.
And last, but not least, it’s important to have a dry area for your horses to hang out, especially if you live in an area which receives a lot of rain or snowfall. Some moisture is good for the hooves, but too much moisture can quickly create problems (such as thrush). Having an area with sand or pea gravel is a great idea, but if this isn’t feasible, just having a barn or shed with higher, dryer ground will suffice.
Sources and Further Reading