How Winter Affects the Hoof

Horse hooves in snow

Many of the hoof related problems we see in the spring can be directly associated with the cold wintery months. Depleting nutrients in forage, increased moisture due to snow and ice, less exercise, less time spent on grooming and cleaning hooves, and additional time the horse spends in the stall with less turn out all contribute to the weakening of hoof health and quality. So, what factors do horse owners need to consider as winter approaches?

Horse Owners and Winter Care

When hoof problems are prevalent or when riding season is in full swing, we tend to see an increase in hoof care management. Unfortunately, horse owners become more neglectful of daily hoof maintenance once certain hoof issues are resolved or when the athletic season ends. This becomes a cycle of bad habits, where horse owners practice good hoof care only when its immediately relevant. Seasonally, this means an increase in hoof care during the spring and summer months and a decline going into the fall and winter.

When we enter this seasonal cycle of improper hoof care, our horses begin winter with “healthier” hooves. But the hooves begin to weaken as they are exposed to winter conditions. Without proper hoof care, the hooves do not have the support to maintain the same hoof quality. As winter ends and spring begins, the hooves are compromised and more likely to develop another slew of hoof related issues.

The only way to break this cycle is to maintain the same level of hoof care year around. To do that, horse owners must:

Wintery Environment and Stalls

Winter not only brings the cold, but in many areas, it brings snow, ice and rain. This extra moisture can further soften hooves and predispose them to “hoof-eating” microbes. Many horse owners may choose to remove their horse from the wintery environment by stalling them for prolonged periods of time. This option does offer a reprieve from the cold, but also confines them into a space where they are exposed to waste and excrement. The ammonia produced from urine along with a moist and contaminated environment damages the hoof structures, reducing the resistance to microbial invasions.

Winter Horse Barn

Feeding a quality hoof supplement will help build a hoof that is more resilient to these conditions, but the hoof must be protected from the outside as well. Managing stalls, regularly cleaning hooves and preventing prolonged exposure to wet conditions, are all good preventive measures. Regular applications of a non-caustic hoof topical containing Yucca Extract, such as Farrier’s Finish®, can also be used as an extra safeguard.

Too Cold to Exercise

Riding your horse in below freezing temperatures is not a picnic, but exercise is a big component to hoof care. When your horse exercises, the hoof flexes. This function self-cleans the hoof and naturally removes unwanted debris. It’s still important to pick the hooves daily to help remove any left-over debris, even if your horse receives regular exercise. If you are unable to provide your horse consistent exercise, picking the hoof multiple times a day and using non-caustic hoof topicals are highly recommended.

The Frog and Exercise

The frog of the hoof acts like a pump, and with every step the frog pumps blood back through the leg. Regular exercise helps stimulate blood flow through this pumping action. The blood flow through the hoof is beneficial to the growth and development of healthy hooves, helps deliver needed nutrients and encourages the growth of a healthy frog.

Farrier Hoof Care

Hoof growth slows down during the winter, but this does not mean we should stop scheduling farrier appointments until spring. Your farrier is extremely important to maintain hoof care. Going a full season without their care could be disastrous to your horse’s hooves. Your farrier is trained to look for specific signs of developing hoof issues. With regular appointments these signs can be caught early, and preventive measures can be put into place. If not, hoof issues can develop and worsen as time goes on. By spring, a little issue could develop into a tremendous problem.

Preparing Your Horse for Winter

Caring for your horse’s hooves is a year-round task. Skipping farrier appointments, irregular feeding of hoof supplements and neglecting hoof care during the winter months is a recipe for hoof problems. Continued hoof care is an important aspect in maintaining your horse’s health and comfort in the winter. If you believe your horse has developed a hoof related issue, contact your farrier or veterinarian as soon as possible. If you have any questions regarding supplementing or feeding your horse, contact Life Data®.

©2020 Life Data Labs, Inc.