In climates prone to freezing temperatures in the winter, horseback riders are less likely to brave the frigid air to go for a ride. Horses’ hooves grow a little more slowly, as well. Together this leads to the feet sometimes receiving less attention during the winter months. Despite less work and slower growth, care still needs to be given to keep the feet in good condition.
Good foot care begins with attending to problems from the summer months. Sand cracks, white line separations and other signs of stress which can allow infection to breed should be trimmed out a bit more aggressively. Infections should be treated with bleach, hydrogen peroxide or a commercial agent. Where possible, a horse should be allowed to go the winter barefoot as this will help break off old, necrotic portions of the foot. Going from shoes to hard, frozen ground can make a horse’s feet very tender, however. If you are going to allow your horse to go barefoot through the winter months, it is important that you begin while the ground is still somewhat soft and allow those feet to toughen up.
If your horse will only be in snow occasionally, the foot can be coated with grease, petroleum jelly or even a cooking spray, like Pam, to help prevent snow build up. “Snowball pads” are a better solution, though. There are a variety of styles, but the kind with the plastic “bubble” in the center are best as they pop those snowballs out as fast as they form. If you choose a pad that covers the whole sole rather than a rim, silicon or some flexible sealant should be applied between the foot and the pad to keep out moisture and debris and help to stand as a barrier to fungal and bacterial growth.
For more active winter use shoes are still a good option. These should have a crease and some sort of substance should be used to assure added traction and prevent slipping and injury. Borium is a resilient surfacing material. It should be used sparingly in the heel because large portions on the bottom will place unnecessary stress on the hoof. Whatever you choose, it is important that you give your horse’s feet the attention they need. Proper care of those hooves will allow your horse to keep putting his best foot forward.