Winter Hoof Care: Like It or Not
LET’S FACE IT, keeping up with our horses’ feet in the winter is not the easiest thing in the world to do. When it’s cold, windy, snowy, or muddy, often the last thing we want to do is get out and get dirty, but keeping our horse’s feet clean and trimmed in the wintertime is just as important as it is at any other time of year, and like it or not, we have to keep on top of it.
I AM ALWAYS AMAZED by people who say that their horses’ hooves stop growing or don’t grow much in the winter. I don’t know where that idea came from, but it simply isn’t true. Okay, their hooves might have a somewhat slower growth rate due to (typically) less movement and, thereby, less circulation and less stimulation for hoof growth, but less movement also means less wear. In any case, to whatever degree they might grow more slowly during the winter months, grow they do, and an overgrown hoof is simply not in the best interest of the horse. Imagine walking around in wonky, imbalanced shoes all the time. It impedes efficient movement.
This horse went the winter without being trimmed because the owner believed that the horse’s hooves “don’t grow much” in the winter.
BUT THERE’S MORE TO IT than keeping up with regular trims through the winter; there are other important considerations that we need to take into account. Thrush, for example (and by that I mean both fungal and bacterial infections of the frog), which especially loves wet winter conditions when our horses’ feet are packed with snow and/or mud, creating the perfect anaerobic conditions for those little buggers, whether they be fungal buggers or bacterial ones.
IF LEFT UNTREATED, these infections can wreak havoc on a horse’s hoof and cause a lot of pain in the back part of the foot, which can lead to toe-first landings, and that can lead to all kinds of trouble, such as strain on and eventual damage to tendons and ligaments in the navicular region, and then those issues can, through the compensatory movement of the horse trying to avoid pain, cause muscular and joint pain further up in the body, and on it goes. In other words, problems in the hoof don’t just stop there. But even if there were no such threat of the domino effect I just described, thrush is a painful condition for a horse. So keeping our horses’ feet clean and doing regular preventative treatments is an important part of keeping their feet comfortable.
THE BOTTOM LINE is that proper winter hoof care is just as important as your hoof care routine at any other time of year. As easy as it can be to let our horses’ hooves go during the mean winter months, it’s not in their best interest, nor is it in ours, for that matter. Keep a horse’s hooves healthy and well trimmed through the winter and we can be ready to hit the ground running in the spring.
For more on considerations about winter hoof care, check out these few articles: