Horse Shoes for the Snow
When I moved “up north” from Florida I was totally clueless about how to manage my horses in the snow. I had a million questions, one of which was “What do I do about shoeing in the winter months?”
I asked many of the seasoned horse people that I knew and got a few different answers including: Snow pads, Nothing, Crisco, Borium, bare feet, rim pads, and regular shoes.
As I embarked on my first winter season, I took the advice of my wonderful farrier and just left normal shoes on. My farrier advised me that we just don’t get enough snow to warrant any special shoeing changes.
And then the polar vortex of 2014 arrived. Ha.
Let me just explain my scenario one chilly “polar vortex” morning: I walk outside for morning chores after we had received a gracious dumping of snow. I proceed to gather grain and hay and a lead rope to go get my lovely OTTB out of the snowy wonderland and inside for his breakfast. In the middle of the field I find him standing on 4, 6in snowballs, walking slowly and carefully (not his usual MO). He looked like he was wearing stilts! So, being “a prepared northern” I already had a hoofpick in my pocket and I was ready to attack those shimmery little snow balls. I carefully lift his leg and begin to “chip, chip, chip” away making absolutely no progress. I begin sweating. My hoofpick breaks. I mumble grumpy words. I hoof it (pun intended) back to my barn apartment and get buckets of warm water. My horse eats his breakfast from his “penthouse suite of snow stilts”. I return, armed with a heftier hoofpick and buckets of warm water. I begin dousing his little feet in warm water. He begins to kick at me. I begin to “chip, chip, chip” away some more. He kicks some more. I continue to sweat in my 10 layers of fleece and long johns and he continues to get grumpier and grumpier at me. Finally, as I am hefting up another warm bucket to dump over his feet, he shoves me over and bolts away. He slips on his ice balls, falls onto his side and proceeds to slide down a hill. The ice balls on his feet magically disappear. He stands up, looks at me, snorts and then trots away to his other pile of hay. I am sitting there, recovering because I just saw his life flash before my eyes (remember, I am a DQ with a pathologic attachment to this slightly mentally imbalanced OTTB). After that, I gave up on the snowballs.
This year, I was bound and determined to avoid another “snowball incident” and I did put snow pads on Seven.
It hasn’t snowed yet.
The point of this post is to educate other Southerners, like myself, on how to manage horse feet in the snow. There are several different options for protecting you and your horse from snow balls. There are, of course, good and bad things about all of them. I will try my best to outline all of the options:
Do Nothing: Leaving your normal steel or aluminum shoes on throughout the winter is not a bad thing. This option is best for climates that just get “dustings” of snow and ice.
- Pro: easy, cheap, and requires no shoeing changes
- Cons: Ice balls can and will form if it does snow and that can be unpredictable
Taking off shoes/going barefoot: This is a great option if you are planning to give your horse the winter off (although I do not recommend that). Without shoes, the hoof will not collect snow and form snowballs.
- Pro: Easy, cheap, and snowballs won’t be a problem
- Con: Can be hard on the hoof if the horse does not have great hoof quality or is not used to being barefoot.
Rim shoes: Rim shoes are different from regular keg shoes because they have a slightly raised “rim” around the shoe. These provide more traction in the snow.
- Pro: Readily available, easy for farrier to fit without causing drastic “shoeing changes”
- Cons: They can collect ice in the groove and become dangerous
Borium: Borium can be added to the shoe in several different methods such as nails, cleats and application over various areas of the shoe. Borium will provide the most traction on pavement and rocky terrain.
- Pro: Many different ways to apply/use, get excellent traction
- Con: Sometimes traction can be a bad thing because it an cause extra percussion and strain on joints.
Snow pads: There are specific snow pads that are made of plastic and that have a little “bubble” in them to help squish the snow out of the hoof. Pads can also be made out of leather or plastic.
- Pro: very effective without adding additional traction
- Con: can get pricey
Cooking spray/Crisco: Adding a layer of grease to the soles of your horses feet can help prevent/delay snow from sticking to them.
- Pro: Cheap and easy
- Con: Crisco is messy and this trick only lasts for about 5 strides
When you are making decisions about hoof care in the winter keep in mind the amount and type of work that you will be asking of your horse. There is a solution for every horse and owner.
Healthy horses and happy riding,