Winter SHOE SMARTS
If you’ll be working your horse over icy, frozen or other questionable footing this winter, now is the time to talk to your farrier about traction devices and/or snow pads for your shod horses. You may not need to make any shoeing changes until the weather actually turns, but knowing what you want to try will speed up that process when the time comes.
You’ll want to provide a horse with just enough grip, but not too much. Studs, calks and similar devices that protrude from a shoe to allow it to “grab” onto hard footing tend to work well, but come at a physical cost. They can increase torsion of a horse’s limbs, leading to stress on the tendons, muscles and joints.
A good farrier will be familiar with the range of options, including devices that can be removed when not needed, and able to discuss them all with you. You can also increase traction of a shoe without protrusions. “Fullered” and “swedged” shoes have grooves along their ground surfaces. For many pleasure horses, this is all that’s needed to prevent slips on dicey footing.
If significant snowfall is expected in your area, your farrier can add “snowball pads” underneath most shoes to “pop” snow loose with each step and prevent the buildup that can make walking difficult.
If your horse isn’t shod, your only option for increasing traction is a “grippy” hoof boot, but that will require some vigilance on your part to make sure it fits well enough to not become a hazard itself. In a pinch, a thick layer of petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening can prevent snow buildup in an unshod horse’s hooves, but both tend to wear off quickly in winter conditions. Boots or shoes with snow pads are a better option for the duration of the season.