There’s something rather romantic about galloping across snow-covered fields on a crisp, winter’s morning. But the reality is that this time of year often brings a very mixed weather package and alternating freezing weather and warm, damp spells can pose all sorts of problems for your horse’s hoof health. Good hoofcare is key to minimise these issues.
In extreme weather conditions, where the hoof has to adapt between very wet and very dry conditions, regular application of grease to your horses’ hooves will help them retain moisture.
Farrier Chris Wiggins says: “You can use any sort of oil. It doesn’t matter whether it is hoof oil or vegetable oil – it works the same way and helps keep the hoof structure more elastic.”
Bringing your horse in from the field with his feet covered in an inch of mud is one of the myriad hazards of winter turnout. Wiggins is not a big fan of hosing off horses’ feet daily. “The constant wetting and drying is not good for them as it can cause the hoof structure to weaken,” he says. “Instead, brush off the mud with a stiff brush.”
Picking out your horse’s feet as soon as he comes in from the field is preferable to leaving the mud in overnight. “It gives the soles a chance to ‘breathe’ overnight,” adds Wiggins.
Muddy fields and waterlogged arenas often mean that we spend more time riding on the road during the winter compared with other times of the year. Riding on a hard surface puts different kinds of stresses and strains on our horse’s legs.
It is important not to do long periods of trotting on the road if your horse isn’t used to it as it can cause problems of its own. Hunters are especially prone to concussion and to corns, which occur as a result of bruising in the area between the bars of the foot and the hoof wall.
You can help avoid corns by making sure your horse is shod regularly before his heels start to grow over his shoes.
Wiggins says: “The quality – as well as the quantity – of trimming is really important when it comes to keeping horses sound. If the foot is completely in balance then the horse will be able to better cope with changing surfaces and conditions.”
Winter also brings with it ice and snow, which can make for hazardous conditions around the yard and when out riding. To keep your horse safe and help him cope:
1. Apply grease to the sole of the foot when riding in the snow or turning out – this will discourage snow from balling up
2. Always carry a hoof pick. When wedged in the foot, snow can be surprisingly hard to dislodge
3. Consider studding options when hacking out of roads. Permanent or screw-in road studs will give your horse extra grip when the conditions become slippery
4. Keep some old bits of carpet handy to put around the yard so you can give your horse something solid to stand on if the ice and snow take hold
5. Keep plenty of sand and grit handy for the same reason