Winter horse hoof health: A professional farrier’s perspective

How do horses’ hooves fare in the harshest winter weather? The coldest months of the year bring hard and uneven frozen ground, icy patches, blowing snow drifts, and frigid temperatures. What special hoof care do most horses need in colder weather?

R.T. Goodrich, a West Coast farrier, shared several suggestions (in a private interview) for caring for horse hooves in winter.

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Winter horse hoof care presents scheduling challenges.

Cold, snowy weather can be hard on horses’ hooves and farrier scheduling, as R.T. Goodrich outlined. Canceled or postponed hoof trimming and horseshoeing appointments are common.

“For the first 15 or so years of my career, I lived in North Central Washington.” Goodrich recounted. “There’s quite a bit of snow in winter, and my biggest challenge was keeping my clients on a regular trimming schedule in winter months, as most horses are turned out.”

Colder months may bring muddy hoof problems in certain regions.

Now working in Northern California, R.T. Goodrich faces another sticky horse hoof concern.

“We have a great deal of mud to contend with, from November to about May,” he said. I advise my clients to provide dry areas for their horses.”

Mud can loosen horseshoes and also trap moisture in horse hooves, leading to deterioration or infections like thrush.

Special winter horseshoes and pads can be useful.

Horses used throughout winter months generally continue wearing their regular horseshoes. Equines who work outdoors may benefit from cold-weather horseshoes and protective sole pads in many regions.

Snow pads reduce the build-up of snow and ice inside a horse’s hoof, while tungsten carbide surfacing on horseshoes can add points or studs to increase traction on slippery surfaces.

“Working ranch and feed lot horses may be shod with snow pads and tungsten carbide for traction, particularly on icy concrete,” R.T. Goodrich stated. “I have very few horses here in California that take any time off. There’s very little down time in my show barns, so shoeing stays the same throughout the year.”

Most idle horses do best without shoes in winter.

Although farriers may debate this point, many hoof care experts advise horses go barefoot in winter, particularly if those equines are retired, pastured or given the winter months off.

R.T. Goodrich agrees. “I’m always in favor of pulling shoes when horses aren’t being used,” he contended. “In Washington State, most of my client horses were trimmed and not used in winter months. TI tended to leave a little more foot for protection. The ground up there freezes very hard, and it’s like walking on gravel.”

Hoof supplements may help strengthen equine feet in winter.

Although he does not recommend topical horse hoof treatments, R.T. Goodrich does endorse the use of feed supplements for stronger hooves in many cases. Equine hoof supplements may contain biotin, amino acids, and other healthy ingredients to strengthen hooves.

“I do recommend quality nutritional supplements when needed,” he said. Of course, no hoof supplement can substitute for a healthy equine diet.

Routine hoof care should continue throughout winter months.

Horse owners and stable staffers may be reluctant to schedule farrier appointments in inclement weather, but equine hoof health depends upon this practice. Horse hooves may grow somewhat slower in colder temperatures, but they may chip and crack under such conditions.

“My shoeing interval doesn’t vary much in winter,” R.T. Goodrich recounted. “Active show horses are done every five weeks, and the rest go about every six weeks. Each horse is an individual with his own needs, but I use the same basic methods for old, young, retired or active horses.”

Who is R. T. Goodrich?

R.T. Goodrich is a 25-year veteran farrier and owner of North Bay Farrier Service, located north of San Francisco, California. Although R.T. Goodrich focuses primarily on shoeing sport horses, he has worked with nearly all equine breeds. He is an AFA Certified Journeyman, AFA Approved Certification Tester and AAEP Vet/Farrier Short Course Clinician.

In 2005, R.T. Goodrich traveled to Louisiana to provide hoof and veterinary care for hundreds of horses displaced by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Adapted from public domain artwork

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