Anyone that has spent a lot of time on a farm in northern Canada knows how icy conditions and hard-packed snow can put stress on a large animal’s ability to maintain sure footing. An image never far from a farrier’s thoughts in the frigid parts of the U.S. and Canada where farm animals are used for work is a team of massive draft horses, pulling a wagon along a winter street, their breath freezing as it contacts the crystal air, icicles hanging from their muzzles and clumps of snow clinging to the horsehair fringe above their ankles.
Whether we use our horses for work or for recreation in the cold weather the kind thing to do is make sure they are correctly prepared for the season. They need additional traction to ensure solid footing on hard winter ground. A horses hooves will adapt to the weather by slowing down in growth. If your horse has very healthy hooves he may not need shoes, but you will need to check his feet daily.
A hundred years ago preparing for a horse’s hooves for snow meant having the blacksmith shoeing them with sharpened shoes. These frequently had to be reset and there was the risk of the animal slicing itself with the sharpened calk. When neverslip, self-sharpening calks were invented it gave horses a little more confidence.
Your horse might be able to get away with shoes on the front feet only for the winter. This gives him extra traction on the front and the chance to strengthen his back hooves as long as you don’t walk him on a lot of abrasive surfaces. Shoeing all four feet works when the animal has to face treacherous conditions, but pay attention to the changes in his gait. He may end up striking his own limbs with the shoes. Check his legs for signs of bruising.
Many farriers use aluminum shoes in the winter. These days, an excellent solution to traction issues is a flat, fullered concave or rim shoe manufactured with acetylene tube horseshoe borium. This type of shoe is fullered the all the way around and beveled toward the inner ground surface to make it self-cleaning. Use nails with a tungsten carbide core. When the animal needs additional traction screw-in studs make the difference. Make it easy on the horse by using threaded studs that can be removed quickly when it’s time to trailer or stable him.
Every horse is different, so always get the advice of a farrier familiar with the winter conditions where you live. How you protect your horse is dependent on his routine and the types of terrain he traverses regularly.