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Preparing your horse’s hooves for winter

by Rachel Gedaliya CEHCA member

You may ask what it means to prepare your horses’ hooves for winter, after all horses have been wintering on earth for millenniums …

Winter brings a different pace, with its cold air and a blankets of snow, short days, and little to no fresh grass to graze on depending on which part of Canada you live in.

Winters main challenge is keeping warm. Some of our horses are in more of a domesticated environment which means we need to pay attention to their needs when temperatures dip below freezing.

In a domesticated environment horses may not have tons of room to roam and move around, fresh forage is limited, especially when there is a sheet of ice covering the ground.  Our activity with the horse is changing as well and horses tend to stand around more than they do grazing on summer grasses.

How do these factors affect the horses hooves during winter?

Lack of movement affects blood flow to and from the hoof, bringing less material to repair and detoxify. Lack of movement also doesn’t allow wear to the hoof material that is still growing, even in the winter months.

Lack of movement affects not only the blood flow to and from the hoof, but to the whole body of the horse. When there is movement there is circulation and that brings warmth to the other parts of the horses body.

We also know that lack of movement atrophies the soft tissue at the caudal part of the hoof (i.e. the Digital cushion) so we need to encourage horses to move, even when not riding/driving. This ensures the hoof is still in shape for performance once spring comes.

How do we encourage horses to move more during the winter months? Creating different feed stations that are far from the water source is one way to achieve more daily steps for the horse. If possible, having a herd of horses living together will create more commotion and movement between the herd members.

Another way to help regulate body heat is by feeding forage to our horses. Having full bellies, the digestive system can produce a substantial amount of heat that helps the horse keep warm. Good forage and a nutritionally balanced mineral supplement will keep the body happy and the tissues healthy which means healthy hoof material growth.

While some believe that hooves don’t grow much in the winter and their trim cycles should be reduced to 6 to 8 weeks (or longer) during the winter, we see in our hoof care practice that trim cycles should stay the same; 4 to 5 weeks. This fact is due to the different terrain the horses are on, which is less abrasive, you got it right- fluffy white snow. So, make sure your hoof care provider is still scheduling your trims in a timely manner suited for your horse and the amount of growth they are producing. This will help to keep healthy hooves healthy.

Often in winter, since moisture levels are increased due to the snow, we can work on some changes to the hooves that we could not achieve while the hooves were dry. Especially if the hooves are presenting contracted heels and bulbs and other caudal failures. Be open with your hoof care provider and have a discussion on how to ‘harness’ winter to make these changes.

One of the biggest concerns we have in winter while our horses are bare hooved is traction. Be it if you are an avid winter rider or you are experiencing some icy conditions in your horse habitat, safety is the number one priority.

The simplest way to achieve more traction is to add studs to your hoof boots. Today every brand of hoof boot will accompany different solutions to add traction to your horses’ hooves. From skijoring to driving and even trail riding, winter conditions shouldn’t deter you from doing something fun and exercising your horse.

With movement, balanced nutrition and extra traction you should feel confident in helping your horse get through winter safely and healthy while having fun too.

Photos are of studded Cavallo hoof boots before heading to some mountain trail driving with the horses.
Photos credit to Connie Challice