Winter Hoof Woes
When the seasons change, so do your horse's hoof-care needs. Here's what to look out for when taking care of your horse's hooves in winter.
Frozen ground can be as unyielding as concrete. The concussion of each footfall on hard ground can lead to soreness and bruises. You may be able to spot a bruise on your horse's sole. It will be a darkened area possibly accompanied by a small crack. Often they go unnoticed as there's no outward sign until a horse is "pottery" or outright lame. Hoof testers can pinpoint the area of soreness. Then you may need to consult your farrier to agree a course of action, i.e. pare down the sole to reduce pressure on the bruised area, put on shoes or hoof pads to prevent the problem from recurring.
Autumn and winter both mean alternating spells of wet and dry weather. These conditions can cause the hoof wall to expand and contract, allowing bacteria to invade, where they can produce a painful abscess.
An abscess causes acute lameness seemingly overnight. A vet will be required to drain the abscess while your farrier can help with follow-up care.
There's a great selection of Poultice Boots available now that means, unlike the old days, your horse doesn't have to stay in now if he gets an abscess.
Thrush can be a problem in locations where winter tends to be wet rather than freezing cold. Moisture in winter ground can feed a chronic thrush problem, or possibly create one.
Every attempt should be made to keep the hooves as dry as possible. You'll probably have to work harder on treating thrush-type problems in the colder winter months. Treating and preventing thrush requires determination and a combined effort between the horse owner, farrier and sometimes a vet.
As with Poultice Boots, nowadays there's a wide range of products to treat the condition of Thrush in horses. These range from sprays, to creams to topical applications that can be brushed on.
When wet snow gets tightly packed into a shod horse's foot, it melts slightly as it meets the sole, then quickly refreezes as it touches the cold metal of the shoe. This process forms "ice balls" within the centre of the shoe that can lead to tripping, soreness and even injury.
The colder the temperature, the more these ice balls will occur. When the snow is slushy, the ice balls will still develop but they’ll fall out. However, when the temperature gets really cold, the ice can be so compacted that it’ll require some sort of tool to get it out!
Take home message…
For the most part, horses stay fairly comfortable in winter when their caretakers are on alert and prepared for the challenges of the season. In fact, most need only a few minor alterations to manage even the most extreme temperatures. The same approach applies to their hooves. Keep an eye on them in winter, continue your regular care, and be ready to step in if anything looks amiss. But don't worry, chances are your horses will make it through to spring, both happy and healthy.