Win­ter hoof haz­ards

EQUUS - - EQUUS - By Chris­tine Barakat

With the change of the sea­son come some chal­lenges in car­ing for your horse’s hooves. Here are an­swers to some of the most com­mon cold weather-re­lated hoof ques­tions.

n the depths of win­ter, cer­tain as­pects of your horse’s health and care de­mand your im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion: Is he warm enough? Is his wa­ter bucket iced over? Is he hold­ing his weight? As you fo­cus on these press­ing ques­tions, it can be easy to over­look sea­son­spe­cific tasks re­lated to hoof man­age­ment. But your horse’s feet are sub­ject to some par­tic­u­lar stres­sors dur­ing the cold-weather months, and if you don’t ad­dress them you may find your­self look­ing at a com­pro­mised hoof and won­der­ing what ex­actly went wrong.

The fol­low­ing ques­tions rep­re­sent some of the hoof-care chal­lenges that com­monly arise dur­ing the win­ter, and the an­swers pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on manag­ing or pre­vent­ing those prob­lems so your horse stays sound and is ready for spring.

You have no­ticed a win­ter re­al­ity: The rate of hoof growth tends to slow at this time of year. New hoof wall emerges from the coro­nary band, grow­ing down to­ward the toe, so de­fects---as­sum­ing the un­der­ly­ing is­sue is re­solved---will move in that di­rec­tion. A de­fect, such as the hor­i­zon­tal crack you de­scribe, is a marker that re­veals the rate of hoof growth.

It takes about a year for a horse to grow a new hoof, but the progress is not steady. Growth is much faster in the spring and sum­mer months than in the win­ter. Sev­eral fac­tors con­trib­ute to a slower growth rate in the cold weather months, in­clud­ing de­creased cir­cu­la­tion as­so­ci­ated with less ac­tiv­ity and fewer nu­tri­tional re­sources be­cause of the lack of fresh pas­ture.

There’s no need to limit turnout when pas­tures are frozen. In a friendly herd, your horse will adopt a com­fort­able and safe ac­tiv­ity level on his own.

Slower hoof growth may mean you can stretch time be­tween far­rier vis­its for an­other week or two dur­ing the win­ter, as­sum­ing your horse is sound with well-bal­anced hooves and no on­go­ing is­sues. But, as you’ve no­ticed, it also means it will take more time for prob­lems to be re­solved.

The best way to en­cour­age hoof growth in win­ter is to in­crease your horse’s ac­tiv­ity with more turnout or rid­ing time. This will en­cour­age cir­cu­la­tion, which pro­motes growth and over­all health. Feed sup­ple­ments con­tain­ing bi­otin will im­prove the qual­ity of the hoof growth but won’t af­fect how quickly it is pro­duced.

As your ex­pe­ri­ence shows, frozen ground can be hard on a horse’s feet. The con­cus­sion of foot­falls against the un­yield­ing sur­face can lead to both bruis­ing and gen­eral foot­sore­ness. A frozen field can be as hard as con­crete, a sur­face you’d never con­sider suit­able for a gal­lop. So use a bit of com­mon sense when rid­ing and slow down when the foot­ing is frozen. A good rule of thumb is that if your horse’s foot­falls make a ring­ing noise, the ground is too hard for any­thing more than walk­ing. On the other hand, there’s no need to limit turnout when pas­tures are frozen. In a friendly herd, a horse will adopt a com­fort­able and safe ac­tiv­ity level on his own.

If your horse does become foot­sore dur­ing the win­ter, call your vet­eri­nar­ian. He can lo­cate a bruise with hoof testers and/or by par­ing the sole to de­tect dis­col­oration. If your horse has a bruise, your vet­eri­nar­ian may rec­om­mend shoe­ing with pads to al­low the area to heal and pre­vent fur­ther bruis­ing.

But just as im­por­tant as di­ag­nos­ing bruis­ing is rul­ing out other causes of hoof sore­ness. Mild “ouch­i­ness” is a com­monly over­looked sign of chronic lamini­tis. Even though pas­tures aren’t lush this time of year, at-risk horses can still de­velop lamini­tis or may be con­tend­ing with pain from a flare-up that be­gan in the fall.

Hoof bruises are as­so­ci­ated with re­peated con­cus­sion on hard ground, but ab­scesses can arise from dif­fer­ent sets of cir­cum­stances.

Ab­scesses are pock­ets of pus that form when bac­te­ria en­ter the hoof cap­sule and mul­ti­ply in the moist, anaer­o­bic con­di­tions. Be­cause the hoof wall is rigid, pres­sure from the pus builds quickly and can be quite painful. A horse with an ab­scess can go from sound to three-legged lame lit­er­ally overnight. The pain per­sists un­til the ab­scess drains, ei­ther through a hole made by a far­rier or vet­eri­nar­ian or by burst­ing through the sole, heel or coro­nary band on its own.

Al­ter­nat­ing pe­ri­ods of wet and dry weather, a com­mon win­ter sce­nario in many parts of the coun­try, can lead to ab­scess for­ma­tion. These con­di­tions cause the hoof wall to ex­pand and then con­tract quickly, caus­ing tiny cracks to de­velop that al­low bac­te­ria to en­ter. Horses who have weak, brit­tle feet are at an even higher risk for ab­scesses in the win­ter months.

You can pre­vent win­ter hoof ab­scesses by im­prov­ing your horse’s hoof qual­ity as much as pos­si­ble be­fore the cold weather ar­rives. This may in­volve the use of a sup­ple­ment or spe­cial­ized trim­ming to strengthen hoof walls, heels and soles over time.

If your horse does de­velop an ab­scess, your far­rier and vet­eri­nar­ian will co­or­di­nate ef­forts to lo­cate it within the hoof and, if pos­si­ble, drain it.

Your role in fol­low-up care will likely in­volve re­peated soak­ing and wrap­ping of the hoof, pos­si­bly for sev­eral weeks. This isn’t an easy job in the depths of win­ter, but it’s im­por­tant for restor­ing your horse to sound­ness.

The icy ac­cu­mu­la­tions in your horse’s hooves form when the snow melts slightly af­ter touch­ing the sole, then re­freezes as it comes in con­tact with the shoe. You’ll no­tice that un­shod horses hardly ever have this prob­lem. Ice balls can cause a horse to slip and fall. Even if he doesn’t, the accu- mu­la­tion can lead to hoof im­bal­ances that strain ten­dons, lig­a­ments and mus­cles to the point of in­jury. It’s a prob­lem that you want to avoid.

The ad­vice to try cook­ing spray, pe­tro­leum jelly or veg­etable short­en­ing is well-mean­ing and, in the­ory, make sense. All of these prod­ucts will keep ice from stick­ing to the metal of the shoe. How­ever, in wet, win­tery con­di­tions they tend to wash away---and thus lose ef­fec­tive­ness---quickly.

A more re­li­able pre­ven­tive

Al­ter­nat­ing pe­ri­ods of wet and dry weather, a com­mon win­ter sce­nario in many parts of the coun­try, can lead to ab­scess for­ma­tion.

Ice balls can cause a horse to slip and fall. Even if he doesn’t, the ac­cu­mu­la­tion can lead to hoof im­bal­ances that strain ten­dons, lig­a­ments and mus­cles to the point of in­jury.

tac­tic is to have your far­rier put snow pads be­tween your horse’s shoes and hoof. They have a con­vex bub­ble in the cen­ter that pops with each step, forc­ing snow back out. An­other good op­tion is snow “rim” pads that don’t cover the en­tire sole but ex­tend just far enough from the shoe to pre­vent snow from ac­cu­mu­lat­ing. As long as ma­nure and muck aren’t al­lowed to build up in the hoof, both prod­ucts will keep snow­balls from form­ing.

A quick point about on-the-spot so­lu­tions for ice balls that have al­ready formed: You’re right that pry­ing the ice free with the claw of a ham­mer isn’t a good idea. A bet­ter so­lu­tion would be to slightly melt the ice with a hair dryer so it falls free on its own.

The an­swer is, “It de­pends.” You have sev­eral op­tions when it comes to trac­tion de­vices and you’ll want to talk to your far­rier about which is best suited for your horse. You’ll need to con­sider sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing the fact that with in­creased trac­tion comes in­creased tor­sion and stress on mus­cles, bones and lig­a­ments. There­fore, you’ll want only as much “grip” as is nec­es­sary for your con­di­tions. Trac­tion op­tions in­clude: • Swedged or fullered shoes, which have a groove on the ground-fac­ing sur­face to in­crease “grab.” These are sim­i­lar to rimmed shoes, which have a raised edged around the in­ner, outer or both rims.

• Tung­sten car­bide, a su­per­hard ma­te­rial in sev­eral prod­ucts in­clud­ing Bo­rium and Car­braze, is ap­plied to steel shoes ei­ther be­fore they are sold or by the far­rier on-site us­ing a forge. The rough ma­te­rial digs into smooth, hard sur­faces and can be ap­plied to the heels or toes of a shoe or across the en­tire sur­face.

• Calks are broad, square pro­jec­tions built into the heel of the shoe. Be­cause these are per­ma­nent fix­tures, you com­mit to that level of trac­tion un­til an en­tirely dif­fer­ent shoe is put in place.

• Studs are set into holes at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions on the shoe and come in dif­fer­ent shapes de­signed to con­quer var­i­ous foot­ing chal­lenges. Long, nar­row studs dig into mud, while studs that are short and squat are bet­ter for grip­ping ice. Some types of studs are pounded into holes in the shoe be­fore it is at­tached to the hoof. Re­mov­ing those studs re­quires re­mov­ing the shoe, but the same shoe can be re­placed, sans studs, right away. Other studs are screwed into threaded holes by a rider af­ter the shoe is on the horse and can be re­moved later while the shoe is still in place. Re­mov­ing tight screw-in studs can be a phys­i­cally dif­fi­cult job, but they of­fer the most ver­sa­til­ity.

With both calks and studs, you’ll also want to con­sider the safety of other horses that share a turnout space with your horse; a kick from a shoe with ei­ther can cause sig­nif­i­cant lac­er­a­tions.

For un­shod horses, the only way to in­crease trac­tion is hoof boots de­signed for slick foot­ing. There is a learn­ing curve to fit­ting and ap­ply­ing boots, so it’s a good idea to try them out be­fore the weather turns. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers make trac­tion de­vices that can be added to ex­ist­ing boots, so if you are al­ready us­ing a par­tic­u­lar style or brand, ex­plore that op­tion first.

First of all, make sure you are ac­tu­ally deal­ing with thrush. All horse feet smell a bit, but thrush has a dis­tinct knock-you-over rot­ting odor. This multi-or­gan­ism in­fec­tion will also cre­ate a black­ish ooze on the un­der­side of the hoof, par­tic­u­larly in the clefts and crevices near the frog. Mis­tak­enly treat­ing a hoof for thrush is a waste of time and money---plus it can lead to com­pli­ca­tions that cause other prob­lems.

In ar­eas of the coun­try where win­ter means long stretches of freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, thrush may ac­tu­ally clear up on its own be­cause the causal or­gan­isms can­not sur­vive sub­zero con­di­tions. In more mod­er­ate cli­mates, how­ever, the re­al­i­ties of win­ter­time horse keep­ing can trig­ger or ex­ac­er­bate the con­di­tion.

Horses tend to spend more time in the stalls dur­ing win­ter and, if those stalls are not fas­tid­i­ously cleaned, that means more time stand­ing in or­ganic mat­ter that pro­vides nour­ish­ment for thrush or­gan­isms.

Muck stalls daily or even twice a day if your horse is spend­ing more time in­doors than out. Con­fine­ment to a stall also means less move­ment, which is a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to thrush. Ex­er­cise is good for hooves be­cause with ev­ery step a horse takes, they ex­pand and con­tract to push out mud and muck. Pro­vide as much turnout time as pos­si­ble in the win­ter months to help re­duce your horse’s chance of de­vel­op­ing thrush.

Also, pay at­ten­tion to the places where your herd con­gre­gates dur­ing turnout. Al­though “clean” mud doesn’t con­trib­ute as much to thrush as dirty bed­ding does, chron­i­cally moist con­di­tions in a pas­ture can make it dif­fi­cult to clear up. Spread gravel or wood chips in the run-in shed or pop­u­lar con­gre­ga­tion ar­eas to give his hooves a chance to dry out.

A va­ri­ety of ef­fec­tive over-the-counter prod­ucts are avail­able for treat­ing thrush. Any for­mula you choose will work best if the so­lu­tion pen­e­trates the crevices of the hoof. A good ap­pli­ca­tion tech­nique is to wrap the end of a hoof pick in cot­ton, dip that into the so­lu­tion, and then swab it into the depths of the hoof.

Horse­keep­ing in win­ter is a chal­lenge, for sure. You’ve got a lot to keep track of, and shorter days with freez­ing con­di­tions don’t make it any eas­ier. But don’t over­look your horse’s hooves at this time of year. If some­thing doesn’t seem right, it prob­a­bly isn’t, and ad­dress­ing it now will help en­sure you can get back in the sad­dle once the weather breaks.

Muck stalls daily or even twice a day if your horse is spend­ing more time in­doors than out.

GET A GRIP: Studs (right) come in dif­fer­ent shapes de­signed to meet var­i­ous foot­ing chal­lenges. A rim pad (left) can pre­vent snow buildup.

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