What should horse owners be aware of in order to take great care of their horses’ hooves as winter approaches? Of the infinite variables associated with hoof care, climate is the least controllable. While our horse-keeping and hoof care practices allow us to “control” factors such as nutrition, maintenance, and environment, we’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature, and winter weather poses the most difficulties for both horse owners and farriers.
As winter approaches, hoof growth tends to slow. At the same time, temperature drops cause any moisture pockets within the exfoliating sole to freeze and “slough” dead sole away from the hoof, speeding up the exfoliation process and leaving the hoof with minimal protection.
The thawing and freezing cycle that speeds up exfoliation also has its effect on footing, often causing mud to freeze, which creates uneven ground that can be as dangerous as a “slip and slide” during the day and even more rough and treacherous at night. If you add snow to the wintry mix, you can also add “snowballing” to your footing concerns, as snow builds up and packs into the hoof cavity, creating pressure points and minimizing traction.
In anticipation of the slowed hoof growth that comes with winter, I recommend making sure your horse’s diet is complete and balanced. I also see excellent results when owners feed a hoof supplement that provides biotin and the other nutrients that support growth rate and quality of the hoof wall.
In addition to providing the right nutrition, protecting your horse’s feet and providing adequate traction are vital concerns during this time, so it’s important to have a working dialogue with your professional hoof care provider. He or she will help you weigh all of the variables for your situation so you can determine how to help your horse weather the winter safely.
A lifelong horseman and practicing farrier since 1972, Danvers Child, CJF specializes in shoeing sport and performance horses. He served as a supervisor for the Official Farriers at the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games, and he also serves as an Official Farrier for the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event. Hungry for more tips on healthy hooves? Listen to SmartPak’s recent webinar, “Healthy Hooves 360°,” to hear Danvers weigh in with our own Dr. Lydia Gray.