With the snow upon us it is time to think about our horses’ hoof care for the winter season. If your horse is barefoot then you can consider yourself fairly lucky! The natural shape and traction of the hoof provide the horse with a defense against the slippery conditions and will minimize the build up snow packing in his feet. On the flip side, however, the change in footing from soft to frozen can cause some horses to have minor bruising or be sensitive until they adjust to the new footing. This is especially something to keep an eye on if the footing freezes quickly, as it likes to do here in Canada!
When a horse is shod for the summer he may receive steel or aluminum horseshoes, depending on his needs and your farrier’s preferences. However, in the winter when we are dealing with snowy and icy conditions a borium horseshoe is often a applied. Borium is a softer metal that provides better traction compared to steel or aluminum. In the
summer a farrier will offer to tap and drill which provides the owner of the horse the option to add corks when the horse needs additional traction (i.e. muddy conditions, grass footing, cross country etc.). Whereas in the winter most farriers will apply permanent “corks” directly into the shoes by applying points of borium where the cork holes would normally be. Depending on the type of work and surfaces your horse will be working on, your farrier may also apply two borium points at the toe.
So if your horse has horseshoes what is the solution to preventing snow balls from building?? Farriers will apply snow pads when fitting the shoe which will prevent excessive snow build up. Snow pads may be made of rubber, plastic or rubber and may be a flat sole covering design, or will be a rounded design that just rims the shoe. Both of these methods work – pads, however, may disrupt the functionality of the frog whereas the rounded design will not. The rounded design will act by compressing when the horse steps down and releasing when he steps up, pushing out the snow. Once again, which method is used will depend on your horses’ needs and your farriers preferences. A pad is a very important component for winter shoeing as without a pad snow can build up to as much as a couple inches which will cause the horse to stumble and will place a lot of strain of the legs.
If your horse has good feet and his shoes are worn primarily for competition you may even be able to remove his shoes for the winter season.
Finally, in Canada and other colder climates, the rate of hoof growth will decrease in the winter. This means that you may be able to extend the time between your horses’ trims and resets by a couple of weeks.
Most importantly, before you make any final decisions, it is best to talk to your farrier and get his opinion because he is the expert!