Seasonal Change From Summer To Winter On Our Horses’ Feet

We are going to discuss the effects of our seasonal change from summer to winter on our horses’ feet and the transition to riding hoof care and trimming/shoeing protocol. This includes orthotics, topical treatments, common problems associated wet conditions, and pathologies such as white line disease, thrush, gravel abscesses, bruising, etc... We as farriers have to take the horses’ environment into consideration when we do a trim and if applicable, shoeing protocol.

Most people have wet conditions to contend with around their facilities. Mud and standing water are not uncommon and we have to try, with the help of horse owners, to keep the hoofs as healthy as possible. As a horse care providers it's important to allow the hoof capsule dry time if possible; removing mud and excessive moisture so the hoof doesn't lose its natural oils as it dries. This makes the horny structure brittle and prone to cracks. The hoof care provider needs to remember that wetter conditions will make the foot softer and prone to wear. Removing too much protective material will cause discomfort and possible loss of use, which may facilitate the use of additional orthotics or pads.

The best preventative to sore or lame horses is a healthy hoof by using correct trim protocol , leaving as much sole and wall as possible as not to weaken hoof integrity, and protecting compromised areas with a number of different materials and or orthotics. This may include boots, steel or aluminum shoes, or glue on alternatives. For those who shoe their horses we try to keep any nail damage to a minimum by nailing as high as safely possible, using the smallest size nail we can, and only as many as needed to keep the shoe on securely. Properly fitting shoes also keeps walls from splitting by aligning the nail drive in the white line and angling the nail to exit the hoof wall. Alternate ways to attach orthotics is gluing them on with the various glue products available: Grand Circuit, Vet Tech, and Hoof Rite (all great for certain environments). Some of these orthotics include Sigafoos Shoes, Easy Boot, Ortho Flex, and more. Hoof/sole conditioners are a good idea in the wetter areas and hoof sealers when it becomes excessively dry. Most of all it's the consistent maintenance done on a regular schedule by qualified professionals that will make a big difference in your horses hoof health. This greatly impacts the overall well-being and soundness of your horse.

Many of my trail rider clients like to use traction devices on their shoes for more secure footing and also to lengthen the wear ability of the shoes. They often ride roads and rocky environments that need the extra traction. Theses traction devices which include Borium, Drill Tech, drilled and tapped studs, and drive caulks have to be properly applied. Too much extra grip could cause tripping though more importantly too much stress on the hoofs and legs of the horse. It will also cause significant damage in the event of an interference or over reach. For this reason I hesitate putting any sort of traction on the toes of the hind feet.

I like to use clipped shoes and prefer to hot fit the steel shoes if the horse will tolerate it. The clips make a more secure job while the hot fit has various benefits. The burnt in clipped shoe will form a pocket at the base of the clip for a tight fit allowing less nails. The seating of the hot shoe seals the tubules to prevent moisture loss and pathogen access while sanitizing the nailing area so there is less chance of invasion of the hoof capsule when you drive the nails. The heat also pulls moisture from the hoof wall down to where the nail exits the hoof, causing less breakage at the clinches.

There are a lot of new materials used in orthotics: plastic, urethane, aluminum alloys, titanium, copper alloys, etc...all with different situations in mind for their application. Some are traditional applications, some use glue protocols, and some are attachable boots that can be removed whenever desired. Depending on what your horses needs are and the logistics involved we can make a shoeing protocol that's meets the horse's needs and your needs.

Pads and hoof packing are a consideration when your horse has a thin sole, bruising, needs caudal support for various maladies, needs treatment for thrush and canker, needs increased angulation of the hoof, or needs frog pressure. We have many different types of support packings from firm, medium, to soft, and now a new memory foam packing I've had good success with. There are also medicated types such as Magic Cushion, Forshners, Vet Tech copper sulfate, etc... Just a leather pad will help protect soles. The tanning process for the leather releases an anti-fungal solution when the foot sweats or is in a wet environment.

Whether bare foot or shod you should regularly clean the foot and frog sulci. Wash the bottom of the hoof with a betadine solution and let it dry to minimize bacterial and fungal build up. Treat the hoof with an anti-thrush medication a couple times a month to prevent or more if there is a thrush or white line invasion.

Trimming and shoeing schedules depend on the growth rates of the horse. Growth rates are effected by age, breed, use levels, and type of riding. With the onset of colder weather the growth rate gradually slows, making your horse's schedule a changing factor every visit. Also the weather conditions that we encounter in the span of time between visits needs to be addressed. Snow and icy conditions will need additional consideration. Snow pads and traction, the owners input on use levels, stabling and turnout, and more are all important bits of information to make a good choice for the winter shoeing package.

If pulling the shoes on a horse that was shod all summer is something you’re considering, then removing the shoes early enough to allow the horse to acclimate to barefoot before the ground freezes is a must. The old nail holes will break away even with a good trim and the soles will become slightly sore until they callous becoming tougher. Treating the soles with Venice Turpentine, Keratex Hoof Hardener, Durasole, or any of the numerous products on the market will help with the transition to barefoot for the horse. While a bit of "walking on eggshells" is common, if your horse limps excessively, refuses to move, or constantly laying down then a visit from your farrier or vet is a good idea.

Thank you for your time in reading and I hope your fall riding and winter break is enjoyable and safe.

Last updated October 26, 2015