Snow sparkles magically as it drifts to the ground. Outdoor ice skating rinks fill with laughter. And, at farms all across New England, winter means taking extra care to ensure horses are healthy and happy. While frozen water buckets and blanket weights are often at the forefront of a horse owner’s mind, one aspect that should not be overlooked is hoof health.
In New England, the main thing you’re going to notice in almost all horses, regardless of their activity, is reduced hoof growth. Your farrier will let you know if the shoeing interval should be adjusted. However, keeping your regimen consistent is vital in keeping angles and the hoof properly balanced.
Your horse’s hoof care needs will depend on the type of winter you have, as well as your property.
Your farrier will address issues as they arise. “Whether it is a muddy winter and we have to control thrush, or we have cold, frozen ground and we have to address bruising, it’s going to depend on what type of winter you encounter,” says Eric John, an Accredited Professional Farrier. Many environmental conditions will affect what type of shoeing—if any—is right for you.
When the ground freezes it can be as hard as cement and many times after it freezes and thaws, it becomes uneven and sharp, which can cause bruises. Also, wet, heavy snow can ball up in the foot and become very dangerous, causing the horse to slip and fall resulting in orthopedic injuries. Snowball pads—whether they are rim pads or full pads—can help in both scenarios, according to John. “If your horse does get snowballs and ice balls, remove them carefully and try not to use the back end of a claw hammer or other sharp objects because you don’t want to end up with any type of puncture wounds to the foot,” he adds.
Your property also plays one of the most significant roles in helping to determine what type of shoeing is appropriate for your horse. For example, if it tends to get a lot of ice, you will need more traction, and different types of studs can be utilized, says John.
While it is important to add traction to help prevent slipping on the ice, if you continue to ride throughout the winter, too much traction can pose problems as well.
However, it is important to note that too much traction on the shoes can cause injury. It can also hinder the performance of the horse if you are continuing to ride throughout the winter, so consulting with your farrier on your best option is imperative.
If you’re going to rest your horse over the winter, another option is pulling the shoes. This would help solve both traction and snowballing problems, as the horse has natural traction from the frog and the snow doesn’t ball up nearly as often without a shoe.
Going barefoot is not right for every horse, though, explains John. It is highly dependent upon whether or not the horse’s hoof is healthy enough and there is sufficient sole to sustain a lack of shoes. “I want to check to make sure that their feet can take that,” he says. “You also want to remove shoes before the ground freezes. Around November or early December is when I start, so the horse’s feet can adjust to the ground freezing as it happens.”
Hoof health plays a large role in the overall health of a horse, so no matter the time of year, it is essential to take proper care of them. Having a good farrier that you trust and taking his or her advice will allow for the best outcome for a safe a successful winter.
About Eric John
Eric John, farrier, APF-I is an expert in therapeutic and specialty shoeing and works closely with the clinicians at Tufts Equine Center. He has successfully treated multiple lameness conditions associated with a wide range of hoof ailments such as extreme cases of thrush; chronic hoof cracks; caudal heel syndrome; and more complex scenarios of hoof keratomas, severe laminitis, and white line disease.