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Seasonal Shoeing


In the winter I usually pull the shoes off my horse and then come spring I put fronts on and then move back to shoes all the way around when summer approaches. I’ve heard this can be a bad thing. Is it really? And if it is, why? – via

(A great question like this deserves an equally great answer, so I’ve “turfed” this to Danvers Child, CJF, the expert farrier who is SmartPak’s go-to guy for all things hoof-related!—Dr. Gray)

Each horse’s hoof care needs are unique and individual, so there is no generic protocol or program that one should follow when it comes to applying shoes. Basically, we shoe horses to protect their feet, to increase or decrease traction, or to alter or enhance a way of travel. If the horse’s needs do not require shoes for one of those three reasons, he can go on a maintenance program and remain “barefoot.”

In addition to the choice of whether shoes are necessary or not, we also choose whether to apply a half set or a full set of shoes. Because horses bear significantly more weight on their fronts, we often only need to provide additional protection for the front feet. As we increase usage and place more demands on the horse, it may become necessary to provide additional support or protection for the hinds.

As your question indicates, climate often influences our hoof care decisions. Many horses get a bit of a vacation during the harsh winter months, as we minimize their activity and work. As long as frozen, uneven ground doesn’t create difficult or harsh footing, this diminished usage can provide an opportunity for maintaining them through regular trimming while foregoing the expense of shoes.

As they go back into more regular activity in the spring, the increased workload may require that we protect their front feet. And, as we move to the more severe conditions associated with summer (e.g., hard ground, fly stomping, etc.), the hind feet often require protection as well.

Danvers Child, CJF

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Ask the Vet

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16 comments on “Seasonal Shoeing
  1. Kevin says:

    Hoof boots are also a fantastic option for a barefoot protocol, not matter what the time of year.

    • Heidi Meyer says:

      agreed! bare hooves IMO allow the horse to gain far more info about terrain (hard, deep, slippery, icy) than shod and the natural biomechanics of the hoof optimize circulation. Proper trims are crucial though 🙂

  2. Lisa Rossman says:

    I wish SmartPak (and horse mags) would publish photos of horses with good trims regardless of whether they are shod or not. The hooves in the photo accompanying this question have very high heels. Much higher than a “normal” hoof would or should have if trimmed properly. Perhaps there is a good reason for maintaining such a high heel, but it is not a normal heel. Horse owners need to be educated about proper trimming and the more photos owners see with poorly trimmed hooves, the less they will recognize poor trimming with their own horses.

    • Allison says:

      I agree with you Lisa about heels; a common belief among many horse owners is that their horses need to “grow more heel” – I thought that once myself. It may be the case sometimes, but in most cases the heels should be at the level of the frog or just clear of the frog in a healthy hoof with a finished trim – anyone can check it out by picking the (bare) foot up and laying a rasp, ruler or any flat item on the heels and see how close the frog is to the rasp. Of course there are always exceptions! Also many opinions on, and ways to deal with, flares, toe trim, rolling the edges, etc.

      • Fernanda says:

        I just wanted to add a copule of comments based on a conversation with a horse owner last week.Every healthy hoof exhibits two different forms of arch, just as our own feet do concavity, or vaulting, where the center of the sole is higher off the ground than the outside edge; and a front-to-back arch evident in the heel quarters. The degree of arch is highly dependent on breed, size/weight, and way of going. Generally speaking, the heavier the horse, the less pronounced these two arches will be, which is why the mustang hoof in my photos has a more obvious arch in the heel quarters than the Warmblood does. To be clear the trimmer does not create either of these arches. The hoof trimmer merely respects whatever arches are present, and works to allow the arches to develop as they will.This isn’t something most horse owners are used to seeing. Farriers are taught to trim the bearing surface flat, because they believe it provides the best mating surface for a shoe. This, unfortunately, is also a fallacy, as Dr. Deb Bennett points out in her writing

    • Raymond says:

      first of all, I want to say I really appcariete when others share their knowledge on the web for everyone (including horses) to benefit from. Thank you!Now about the hooves: While the warmblood foot is beautiful, there are major differences between the two: Note the smaller medial half in the wild foot (naturally more weight on inside half) while the warmblood foot is trimmed for symmetry. Notice how the tubules in the wild foot curve under to protect the connection between sole and wall? I’d say there is more balance / strength in the wild foot is it the arch?

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I completely agree with all of the comments above. What a poor example of hoof health in the picture used for this article. For someone trying to further educate themselves, such as anyone taking the time to read this article, there should be a classic example of a “common’ ideal hoof shape we would encounter or wish we would encounter rather than an exception or worse yet what to avoid. Every aspect of this article should be taken into consideration when sharing with equine enthusiasts, even a decorative picture that clearly wasn’t meant to illustrate anything.

  4. Sharon Bowen says:

    Both of these hooves look like club feet to me. I had a horse for 18 years with a club foot. It is possible to disguise one with clever trimming as above so they look “nice.” The height of a particular heel is a function of all the other structures of the hoof. A properly trimmed barefoot hoof will have the correct heel height for that hoof. The photo above is of two trimmed hooves but is not a true barefoot trim.

  5. Erika Seybert says:

    My QH mare has “lollipop lesions” of the navicular and has almost “no” heels. With corrective shoeing, pads, etc., relief is given to her by releasing the tension on the DFT.

    • Cantinflora says:

      That’s very kind of you. Of the many disciplines I’ve wrekod in, the equine world sadly stands out as continually perpetuating bad science. I hope to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of horses and their owners by both increasing our knowledge through personal research and by providing a reliable and bias-free source of information. Thanks again!

  6. Wendy says:

    I disagree with the vet comments about shoes in the front only. Yes, horses carry more of their weight in the front, but we encourage our horse to use their hindquarters more. And if they need shoes in the front for whatever reason(poor hoof quality, riding terrain, etc.) their back feet are subject to the same conditions. Why not make them as comfortable as possible on their back feet to encourage them to use their hind end as we often ask them to do? If your horse needs shoes, it is all around.

  7. fran williams says:

    One of the main reasons for pulling shoes in winter is to prevent ice and snow building up in the shoe so the horses don’t have to walk like they have on high heels.

  8. Katrina O'Neal says:

    When horses are likely to be turned out for several months, we always pull shoes. Even on the track, if a horse was not going to race for 6wks or more, they would often pull shoes.

    Although many horses do better with shoes, they do prevent the hoof from completely expanding and contracting, which we all know is how the hoof gets it’s blood supply. So some time shoeless, in the majority of cases I’ve seen, is always beneficial.

    Obviously if the horse needs shoes when in work and he’s going to be in work all winter,then this will not apply. But most horses get some breaks…they need vacays just like us.

    And even thought it’s a great company, I’m not sure Smart Pak is the place to go for definitive health answers…

  9. hillary thomas says:

    I have a mare with white hoofs (she has lots of chrome) hoof cracks and crumbles around edge. Sheoer says not pretty but its ok. How to make her hoof stronger -(an pretty) best suggested supplement please.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Hillary, it’s excellent that you’re working closely with your farrier regarding your horse’s hoof issues, as good farrier care is one of the most important factors in hoof health! If you’re considering a hoof supplement, you’ll want to look at options that contain the key ingredients for supporting healthy hooves such as biotin, amino acids, and minerals like copper and zinc. Research suggests that supplementing with 10-30 mg of biotin may help support hoof growth and hardness, so look supplements containing that level of support. – Dr. Lydia Gray

  10. J. Wilson says:

    I do not agree or disagree, I believe every horse and their hooves should be treated as individuals, cause they are!!
    I have 8 horses and each one has a different trim and shoe program individualized for each!
    There really isn’t a ” Common” trim for feet!! it is all individual for each foot of the same horse!!

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