Keeping horses sound in the winter and on hard ground is a topic that keeps farriers, horse owners and veterinarians alike with a never ending topic of discussion. There are as many opinions on the matter as there are participants.
Harold Walker of Ardmore Oklahoma has been a professional farrier for over 30 years. A graduate of the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School, he has done hot, cold and corrective shoeing on all breeds of horses. Today he works often with racking and walking horses.
Should horses have shoes pulled for the winter? From a farrier standpoint, Walker says “If using them – riding them – it’s alright to keep shoes on. If not riding is ok to trim and turn them out.”
In many parts of the country there are padded shoes that keep ice from balling up in the feet. Mr. Walker says “the people I work for don’t do that – probably do in other parts of the country but not here” – of course many parts of Oklahoma may have frozen ground but not the snow accumulation of the north too.
Borium studs are another issue that can bring difference of opinion. With borium added for traction, a 1/8″ to 1/4″ thickness on the shoe it increases the horse’s traction on slick surfaces. Mr. Walker states in his experience and practice “some people use them, mostly for horses being ridden on black top. They’re the best thing for country riding.” The increased traction makes a big difference, and he spoke of having one fall that resulted in serious injury to the rider. Helping the horse stay on his feet is an asset in slick areas.
Some recommend shoeing only the fronts, a practice Walker says “depends on the horse. The main thing is if a good shoe is on keeping it on.” Another consideration for horse owners that is difficult from a shoeing standpoint is mud. Around feeders, gates and other areas heavy mud can pull shoes off. Many of Walker’s customers ride on wheat pastures and he notes “horses can get in mud and pull a shoe.”
It’s a help to the shoer to keep feet in condition. “When the ground is frozen or real dry, the feet are harder to work on.” Hoof products such as Hooflex can be applied to soften the foot but many don’t use them, and they aren’t something that works on all horses. “Hoof grease” or Vaseline can also be coated under the foot in the sole, to help reduce snow balling up in the feet. Another big help for farriers is properly teaching the horse to pick up their feet and stand.
Another standpoint for many is approaching foot care from a nutritional standpoint. Walker says his customers don’t generally use supplements, just grain. Again, the individual horse can tell much. What works on 100 horses may not work on the 101st.
While a general guideline can be followed, it’s important to have a farrier that is working with and looking at your horse in particular if soundness issues happen on hard ground. This is much better for the horse, as no article or book can cover every situation and every horse is different.
Pay attention to small changes and make decisions based on your horse and your farrier’s advice for that horse.