Ask a Farrier: Why Does Only One of My Horses' Hooves Ball up with Snow?

brown and white horses in snow - ask a farrier - why does only one of my horses' hooves ball up with snow

There could be a few reasons why some horses' feet ball up more with snow and ice. The main cause is their shape and possibly their length. An ideal hoof has a concave sole, which lessens the concussion up their legs when they move. The downside to a perfectly shaped foot is that more snow and ice build up in there, whereas a horse with a flatter sole won't ball up as badly.

If your horse struggles with this, ask yourself a few questions. When were your horses trimmed or shod last? The longer the hooves grow, the more snow will ball up.

Where do you live and what type of snow do you usually get? Light, fluffy, dry snow usually isn't a problem. Heavy, wet snow is great for snowball fights and making snowmen, but that's the kind of snow that sticks in horses' hooves the most.

How to Stop Your Horse's Feet from Balling up with Snow

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help.

The easiest fix might just be that your horse needs a trim. That said, make sure you don't trim them too short. The hard, frozen ground might make them sore.

If your horse has shoes on, I'd recommend snow pads. There are a few different styles to choose from. I prefer the soft bubble looking rim pad that sits around the inside of the shoe and leaves the frog and some of the sole open. These pads allow oxygen to the soles and frogs. 

Some farriers prefer the hard plastic pads that cover the entire bottom of the feet. Others argue that the hard plastic, as well as the packing underneath, could freeze, possibly causing uncomfortable pressure points. 

Another problem with covering up the sole and frog all winter is the lack of oxygen. Think of it like you wearing a cast or bandage for months. Your skin is soft, shriveled up and sensitive when you take it off. The same theory applies to horses. 

There are lots of hoof dressings and oils on the market that will help with snowballs for a little while. You could also use something that you probably already have in your house, like vaseline, vegetable, canola or baby oil. Some people use motor oil and some say that's bad for horses. 

I know a few people who swear by bacon grease and others are afraid the smell of bacon could attract coyotes, cougars or other predators. I prefer the ease of cooking oils in a spray can (plus, there's no mess). It doesn't even have to be a name brand. You can find some in most dollar stores. 

The longest I've seen any of these last is a few days, but it beats having to chip ice out of your horses feet every few hours, especially when it's forty below outside.

This is our monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 19 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board of Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist. Karen lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.

If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), email or leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature.

Image credit: Michael Vrba

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