You winterize your house, your truck, yourself. Your horse pretty much takes care of winterizing himself, either by growing 4 inches of thick hair that makes it impossible to ride even a small trot without him sweating through it all and needing a four hour long cool down, or by not growing a coat at all and looking at you with poor shivery eyes until your heart bleeds and you buy him yet another blanket to replace the one his buddies tore off of him and shredded into unrecognizable pieces two weeks ago. There’s not loads he can do to get his feet ready, though, aside from not growing them out quite so quickly. Here’s where you come in.
Step One: Prepare a Plan
Winter is an unreliable jerk, so you might want a quick look at what kind of winter the experts suggest will hit your area. The experts will be wrong, of course, but their guesswork will give you a starting point for creating a plan for your horse’s feet. Your plan should include not just the weather outside, but what you plan to do with your equine friend and also what his friend the farrier is up to. Is the horse shipping south? Is the farrier shipping south? If the horse is spending the winter in the north, what will his training regimen be? Just as you ideally have the winter tires on your car before an ice storm, you want any shoeing changes done before the really bad weather hits and you have a problem on your hands.
Step Two: Prepare the Property
If it’s your property, you’ll obviously already have an eye on fun wintertime activities like snow clearing, keeping gate areas and paths free of ice, etc. Even if you don’t own the property your horse is living on, you can still plan on contributing to his safety by making sure there’s salt or sand on property, clearing debris from pathways before snow covers it and creates a hazard and offering to shovel out, if need be.
Step Three: Prepare a Shoeing Strategy
Can you get away with taking the shoes off altogether? Since horseshoes are basically skates, many farriers prefer this route. If you need to leave shoes on over the winter, you have a few options to keep the horse safe over frozen or slippery ground. Generally, people rely on snowpads, studs or hard-surfacing. There are a couple of old standbys where pads are concerned: the bubble pad and the rim pad. The bubble pad is a full plastic pad that’s nailed onto the foot underneath the shoe and has a convex “bubble” in the centre that keeps snow from building up. Thrush is a concern with this pad because there’s not a lot of room for the foot to breathe, and it’s also less ideal if you hack on areas that aren’t sufficiently covered with snow. Many people prefer the rim pad, which is, like the bubble pad, plastic or rubber and nailed on underneath the shoe. It forms a rim around the inside of the shoe surface. Leaving the centre of the sole open means you can clean the foot and address thrush more easily. The downside to these pads is the cost.
Using studs for traction is another way to keep a horse surefooted on unpredictable ground. You can customize a bit in terms of stud size, number, placement and type. There are removable studs just for riding, or ones that are fixed to the shoe if you want 24/7 traction. There are some factors to consider here, too. If the studs are removable, you’ll have to keep track of them and keep the holes plugged when they’re not in use. Fixed studs are riskier – it’s easy for horses to scrape their (or their friends’, or your) legs with them and, as with any extra traction, they can cause strain on the horse’s legs. Hard headed nails are another option that works like a stud, but not every farrier loves this option.
Hard surfacing, or borium, is an agent that’s applied to the shoe to help it grip in icy conditions. It’s generally put on in lines or dots, often with consideration of where the horse seems to wear down his feet most. Not every farrier will do it, and it’s not cheap (although a shoe that’s been hardened will theoretically last longer). There can be concerns with breakover, since the hard surfaced parts of the shoe will stick more than the parts that don’t. This can cause additional stress to lower limbs. Since the treated parts of the shoe will be harder than the rest, there are also issues with uneven pressure on the hoof. As with all of these options, you need to weigh the benefits and the risks.
Step Four: Prepare for Emergencies
Dealing with emergencies in January is terrible. You can make it slightly less terrible by being stocked up with emergency supplies and to have some strategies in place for when things go wrong. Be prepared for bruises and abscesses as the ground changes. A stock of bell boots for a horse with studs in is a must because you absolutely know he will lose at least three. Hoof boots can also be a lifesaver. Buckets of sand, salt, extra shavings or mats are great to have on hand for when the yard becomes a skating rink. Having a small hammer and a hoofpick by the door for snowballs is also a good idea. I don’t know if this needs saying or not, but never hit the side of the horse’s hoof wall thinking the snowball will come off the bottom. There’s no way around it – you will have to tap and dig those bad boys out.
Step Five: Prepare a Delicious Wintery Beverage to Enjoy Once Your Planning is Done
There have to be some perks to the season, right?
by Cindy McMann