Hoof care: keeping your horse’s hooves in top condition over the colder months

Taking care of your horse’s hooves is a very important part of horse care.
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A horse’s hooves are responsible for supporting the animal’s full weight on a very small surface area, and they therefore need a lot of specific upkeep to ensure they stay healthy. Looking after your horse’s hooves will help to prevent problems like bruised soles, thrush, and laminitis, as well as making your four-legged friend more comfortable and able to enjoy being active.

While you might think that caring for your horse’s feet is the same all your round, there are some specific things that need more attention throughout the winter season. Here, the horse care experts at Horse & Country will take you through the essentials of winter hoof care.

Provide dry ground

Taking care of your horse’s hooves is a very important part of horse care. (Pic supplied by Horse & Country)Taking care of your horse’s hooves is a very important part of horse care. (Pic supplied by Horse & Country)
Taking care of your horse’s hooves is a very important part of horse care. (Pic supplied by Horse & Country)

While horses like to be able to continue spending time outside throughout the winter, it’s also important to bring them in so that their feet can dry off. The moisture in the ground during winter can provide the perfect conditions for infections like thrush, and in order to minimise this it’s crucial to give your horse some time in dry conditions. Make sure to keep an eye on the weather conditions for lots of rain and wind, and bring them back to a clean, dry stable for several hours after they’ve been in wet or muddy fields.

As well as reducing the chance of fungal infection, this will also help the horse’s feet to adjust gradually to the changes in the weather and ground, helping them be less prone to seasonal issues. The ground in winter is very changeable, as it becomes hard when the temperature goes below freezing but can get very wet if the temperature is still above freezing. So, give your horse’s feet a break from the moisture and ensure they dry out. Even when your horse is outside, they should ideally have access to a standing area that’s completely dry at all times.

Book the farrier regularly

As well as making sure that your horse’s hooves aren’t left being damp, you should take time to inspect them regularly and have your horse seen by your farrier every 6 - 8 weeks. It might seem like you don’t need these visits as much in winter, because horses’ hooves tend to grow slower at this time and you might not be working your horses as much, but it’s still vital to maintain your horse’s hoof care regime.

An unbalanced or uneven hoof is more prone to developing sand and grass cracks from wear and tear that can turn into more substantial injuries. These cracks can also give access to organisms that cause infection and make disease more likely. The way to prevent this happening is to regularly book in with your farrier to maintain an even shaped hoof and have your horse’s feet assessed regularly for any possible issues. Having the foot inspected at rest is a great way to identify any possible problems before they become more serious, so make sure you keep your farrier in your calendar.

Shoe your horse for winter

You should decide at the beginning of the season what the right winter shoeing choice is for your horse and arrange it with your farrier. There are three main choices: barefoot, shoeing the front feet only, or shoeing all four feet. It’s worth noting that some livery yards won’t allow horses in if they have all four feet shod during the integration period. This is to prevent more serious injury if the horse kicks another one. The most common winter shoeing choice is to have shoes only on the front feet, as this means that the hind feet can reap the benefits of being barefoot.

Being without shoes can have some health benefits, as your horse’s feet will be directly on the ground and can therefore develop a strong frog and bars. If you shoe your horse the rest of the year, removing them for a while can allow their hooves to develop more without shoes if the hoof wall is strong enough. However, there are also benefits to having the front feet (or even all four feet) shod, such as increased traction and balance. Speak to your farrier to make the right decision for your horse and have winter shoes put on to increase grip and balance if you are shoeing for winter.

Use barriers to harden the hooves

As well as taking care of their feet by providing dry space and ensuring that they have regular farrier visits, your horse will benefit from some extra help in hardening their hooves at this time. Wrapping the hooves with a mixture of iodine and sugar can help to harden and dry out the sole of the foot, making it less vulnerable to the damage of winter ground and weather conditions.

As an alternative, you can also buy gels and hoof dressings that are specially designed to help protect your horse’s feet during the colder months. They create a barrier that will stop the hoof absorbing too much moisture and therefore keep it drier and less prone to breakage and diseases like thrush.

Katie Allen-Clarke, Head of Marketing at Horse & Country, stated: “In the winter months, it can be tempting to skip farrier appointments as your horse’s hooves grow more slowly, and you might not be riding as long or as often. However, it’s important to keep up with your routine of hoof care throughout these months to prevent health issues. Consult your farrier at the start of winter to ensure that you have a heads up about any issues your horse might be prone to. This way, you can anticipate them.

“Then, take some time to ensure that you understand the aspects of hoof care you’ll need to manage throughout this time. Resources like our Back to Basics: Shoeing and Hoof Care series can help you gain the knowledge you’ll need ahead of the winter and provide a base to go back to if you need to check something or decide on your horse’s winter shoeing needs.”