Winter Hoof Care


By Richard Knight BVetMed MRCVS on behalf of Peter Fenton Equine Vets

With winter fast approaching it is important to note that hooves generally grow less during the winter months but regular hoof care and monitoring is still essential. Checking all four hooves and legs daily is still vital, although this can be more difficult when they are wet and covered in mud!  Many owners will remove their horse’s shoes during the winter as they plan to ride less or want to give their horses feet a “rest” and to save some money, it is important to discuss this with your registered farrier as some horses are unable to cope without shoes and removing shoes may help the bank balance but may be detrimental to your horses feet. The time between seeing the farrier may be able to be increased slightly in winter as hoof growth may slow slightly but again it is wise to speak to your farrier about extending time between shoeing. Even if your horse is unshod, regular trims are important to maintain good hoof health

Diet is important

A balanced diet is essential for quality and consistent horn growth. Poor or slow hoof growth may be due to a dietary imbalance or deficiency and a supplement may be beneficial it may be worth discussing this with your farrier or vet who can make any recommendations.

Take care to monitor your horse feet during winter, a horse stabled for for 24 hours a day with little or no turnout can have very hard feet and those turned out all winter in muddy or frozen paddocks can have feet that become very soft making shoeing more difficult in both cases and can lead to further hoof problems.


Horses can be more prone to hoof  bacterial infections in winter and diseases of the whiteline, such as thrush it can be related to standing in dirty wet bedding or very muddy paddocks. This can be diagnosed by a foul smelling odour and a dark coloured discharge from around the frog, thrush can travel deep into the sensitive tissue within the frog causing pain and lameness. Warm, moist bedding in stables or the accumulation of mud and dirt from the field encourage the growth of bacteria. Picking the feet out and checking them daily will help to prevent infection or to recognise infection in the early stages. If an infection occurs there are many topical treatments available containing antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties, commonly being iodine and copper sulphate based solutions. These applications can also be used weekly as a preventative measure in horses and ponies prone to such infections. For the more serious conditions or if you are finding infections difficult to resolve you may need to seek veterinary advice.

Losing shoes

One complaint often heard in winter is that ‘my horse keeps pulling shoes’ this is often more common in winter as horses are turned out in wet, muddy conditions and the mud acts like glue on the bottom of horses shoes, sucking them into mud. When a shoe had been traumatically pulled off the farrier may then find it difficult to nail on a new shoe if there is damage to the hoof wall and the horse may be more likely to pull the shoe off again. Limiting horses turnout  in muddy paddocks will help them to keep hold of their shoes and also smaller paddocks with less horses often decreases the chance of horses charging around the fields pulling shoes, remember that ridden work and turning out in a ménage are great alternatives for your horse to get out and about in winter!

Abscesses can be more common in winter due to the wet boggy conditions and they can be extremely painful for a horse. A foot abscess is an infection of the foot that can occur at different locations and for a variety of reasons. They can occur when a bruise (or corn) becomes infected, when a puncture wound occurs or for an unknown cause.  An abscess can take several days to develop and show clinical signs.

Hoof testers

The usual history for a foot abscess is that a horse is seen to be normal then a few hours later will be bought in from the field/out of the stable hopping lame and unwilling to bear weight on the affected limb, the horse may also have a warm hoof and a digital pulse. Either your farrier or vet will be able to use hoof testers to identify if an abscess is present as the horse will resent pressure applied over the area. Then your farrier/vet will be able to pare out the horn and find the abscess, once the abscess is found and the pressure released, horses are usually a lot more comfortable. However only your vet will be able to diagnose and treat your horse if it is not an abscess that is causing your horse’s lameness. Establishing drainage is key to successful treatment of a foot abscess and your vet or farrier will try to remove sufficient horn to ensure that the abscess drains and does not reform. They may also have to remove the shoe as many abscesses are found beneath it and would go undetected if the show were left on.


Once drainage has been established it is generally advisable to poultice the foot for several days using a hot wet poultice such as Animalintex to help draw out the abscess. This should ideally be changed twice daily. Once there is no further pus detected when changing the wet poultice, a dry poultice can be used, ideally in conjunction with something to harden the hoof such as Povidine, Sugadine (Povidine and sugar mixed together), magnesium sulphate or proprietary hoof hardeners. Once a diagnosis of a foot abscess has been made and treated appropriately, if the horse’s lameness has not improved markedly within 2-3 days then it is advisable to speak to the vet or farrier again as the foot may need further paring.

Roads can be slippery throughout the year but this is often more noticeable during winter when surfaces are more likely to be wet, icey and covered in snow making hacking out more dangerous for both horse and rider. Similarly horses being worked in fields and across country may experience an increased loss of traction when conditions are wet and muddy. Shod horses will gain from shoes being in good condition. Increased traction may be gained from the addition of studs and talking to your farrier will help to decide which may offer the best solution for you and your horse.

The old saying of no foot no horse is particularly relevant in winter and paying close attention to your equine friends hooves can help to stop problems before they start.

First Published December 2013 Equi-Ads

Author: Features Editor

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