The rock-hard ac­cu­mu­la­tions of ice and snow that can get packed into a horse’s feet can cause lame­ness and in­jury. Here’s how to keep them from form­ing.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Lau­rie Bon­ner with Melinda Freck­le­ton, DVM

Ice balls: The rock-hard ac­cu­mu­la­tions of ice and snow that can get packed into a horse’s feet can cause lame­ness and in­jury. Here’s how to keep them from form­ing.

One win­ter haz­ard that rid­ers in north­ern climes know well is ice balls. When snow and ice get packed un­der a horse’s hoof, it warms up slightly against the sole, then freezes read­ily against the cold metal of the shoe. The ice can quickly build up un­til the horse is walk­ing on a hard, solid mass of frozen ma­te­rial, called “ice balls” or “snow­balls.” The wet­ter and more dense the snow, the more likely it is that snow­balls will oc­cur. “Slushier” ice will fall away from the foot more read­ily, and light, dry snow won’t pack well, but wet or icy snow can eas­ily get com­pacted into a tight, hard block.

Walk­ing on the un­even mass even for a short time can cause a num­ber of prob­lems from trip­ping and slid­ing

to strains or sprains of the mus­cles, ten­dons and joints. Per­sis­tent snow­balls can lead to bruises and hoof cracks. Horses do OK much of the time when there is snow all around, but once on a firm sur­face, many will teeter as if they are on highheeled shoes.

Re­mov­ing large masses of ice from un­der your horse’s feet can be dif­fi­cult, and by the time you dis­cover them, the dam­age may al­ready be un­der­way. It’s bet­ter to take mea­sures to pre­vent them from form­ing: 1. Let your horse go bare­foot. Com­ing into con­tact with the cold metal of a shoe en­cour­ages wet slush to freeze solid. If you won’t be do­ing much rid­ing in the cold months, con­sider leav­ing your horse bare­foot over the win­ter. Snow and ice can still build up on un­shod hooves, but the ac­cu­mu­la­tions tend to be smaller and eas­ier to re­move. 2. Add anti-snow­ball pads. If your horse wears shoes through­out the win­ter, ask your far­rier about anti-snow­ball pads. There are two types: One is a heavy plas­tic or rub­ber in­sert that cov­ers the horse’s sole and fea­tures a con­vex “bub­ble” that forces the snow and slush out with each step. The other, called a rim pad or tube pad, con­sists of a raised rub­ber tube that cir­cles around the in­ner perime­ter of the shoe but does not cover the frog or sole. Both are about equally ef­fec­tive at keep­ing out the snow and ice, but you’ll need to be dili­gent about clean­ing your horse’s feet be­cause mud and ma­nure may build up un­der the pads. 3. Try a home rem­edy. Ask a group of horsepeo­ple about snow­balls and you’ll hear plenty of sug­ges­tions for sub­stances to ap­ply to a horse’s soles to pre­vent snow and ice from stick­ing. Th­ese home reme­dies are not as ef­fec­tive or long last­ing as anti-snow­ball pads, but they may be help­ful at times, es­pe­cially if ice is only an oc­ca­sional prob­lem where you live. Thick, sticky prepa­ra­tions, such as Vase­line or Crisco, are more ef­fec­tive than thin­ner ones, such as cook­ing spray or baby oil. How­ever, avoid us­ing mo­tor oil, WD- 40 or other po­ten­tially caus­tic or hazardous sub­stances. If you wouldn’t want it on your own skin, do not ap­ply it to your horse’s feet. 4. Get your horse hoof boots. If your horse tends to ac­cu­mu­late snow­balls on your win­ter rides, hoof boots can help keep his feet clean and dry. Make sure you choose boots that fit your horse well, with­out rub­bing, and that the treads pro­vide the right amount of trac­tion for the ter­rain where you ride. If your horse is shod, choose a model de­signed to be worn over shoes.

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