As all horse owners will know, ground conditions in winter can play havoc with horses’ hooves. But, with a little TLC, you can greatly reduce the damage. Here at Bridleway, we’ve put together some top tips for maintaining feet.
With winter comes hard, frozen footing one minute and wet, boggy ground the next – neither of which are ideal conditions for your horse’s hooves. Hard, rutted terrain can cause bruising to the soles and when it’s very wet, hooves can become oversaturated, making the frog more permeable to bacteria and fungi. If you’re moving your horse between wet grazing and a stable full of dry, absorbent bedding, the wet-dry cycle can weaken his hooves and make them prone to cracking and breaking. When a horse’s hooves become wet, they expand and when they dry out, they contract. If the hooves expand and contract frequently, it can cause the foot to become weak and crack.
Diet – ensure your horse is receiving a balanced diet so that he has all the vitamins and minerals he needs to grow strong, healthy hooves. If he isn’t having hard feed or eating the full quota recommended on the bag, consider a feed balancer. He might also need a hoof supplement – key ingredients to look for to promote good hoof health include biotin, methionine, lysine, copper and zinc.
Daily care – if your horse is spending more time stabled in winter, or if his field is very muddy, then thrush can be a problem. It’s important to make sure you horse has somewhere dry to stand, so if his field is a quagmire then a concrete base or area of hard standing should be installed, although a thick pad of straw can be just as effective. In his stable, ensure there is plenty of clean, dry bedding.
Farrier visits – make sure these are regular as trimming helps prevent cracks getting worse. Your farrier knows your horse well, and can advise you on the health of your horses’ hooves and whether he might need topical applications.
Topical applications – if the weather is constantly changing, there are applications you can put on his hooves daily to prevent the uptake of too much moisture and stop the foot expanding and contracting too much. Some applications are applied to the underside of the foot and will help harden the sole if he suffers from bruising, while others have disinfectant properties that can help to prevent thrush and white line disease.
Losing shoes – this is a common problem when there’s lots of deep mud around. Horses who pull their shoes off on a regular basis can often remove some of the horn at the same time, therefore damaging the hoof. It can take 9–12 months for the hoof to fully grow out to the toe so it’s important to try to avoid the hoof being damaged in this way. Using over-reach boots for turnout will help prevent your horse pulling his shoes off and Bridleway has lovely, brightly coloured over-reach boots ideal for turnout, as they’re much easier to find if he manages to lose one in the middle of the field.
Exercise – many horses do less work in the winter and spend long periods standing in a stable. However, exercise stimulates blood flow in the foot promoting a healthy horn growth, so try and get him out for as much exercise as you can. Remember with visibility being poor in the winter months, high visibility clothing is a must if you venture out on the roads.
Snow – although thankfully we don’t get a lot of snow in the UK, it is important to know how to cope with these conditions. Greasing the bottom of your horse’s hooves with petroleum jelly or lard will help prevent snow balling in his feet.
Hosing his feet – when your horse comes in muddy from the field, it’s tempting to hose his legs and feet but if he has too much moisture in his hooves already, this will make the problem worse. If you do wash his feet then drying them off with a towel afterwards can help reduce moisture intake.
And above all, remember spring is just around the corner and muddy hooves will soon be a distant memory!