Should I take some precautions with my horse on frozen ground?  


Sure you should!  You don’t have to go crazy and lock him up with bubble wrap, but knowing a little about frozen ground can help him stay happy and safe when the weather really really really makes the ground solid. 


A few notes on frozen ground to start with:


  • It’s usually not smooth and level and perfect.  Humps and bumps and pointy things get stuck. 


  • Frozen ground can be just as dangerous as ice - your horse needs some “purchase” or traction into the ground, usually found when his weight presses into the unfrozen ground.  Nothing to grab onto when it’s frozen. 


  • Watch out for mud if there's been a bit of a thaw - it can be only a few centimeters deep - with the still frozen stuff below which basically can equal slippery madness. 



It's hard to take a picture of frozen ground so here's some snow for you instead. 



So - let’s think about what happens to your horse (or you) on slippery frozen ground:


  • There’s the slip factor.  Nothing can happen, your horse can recover.  Or, he strains or tears soft tissue.  Or there’s a fracture or other life ending injury.  


  • There’s the concussion factor.  Frozen ground is harder than concrete, and much harder than asphalt (ask any runner….)  That’s a lot of concussive force on your horse’s body and joints.  Ouch. 


  • There’s the bruise factor.  Those humpy lumpy pointy things along the landscape often end in hoof bruises (more on those here).  Applicable to both shod and barefoot guys!


  • There’s the hoof rolling to one side factor.  Think twisting your ankle because you are wearing heels when you normally wear paddock boots.  I’ve seen groomed arenas freeze and the tractor marks create wavy fetlock twisting ridges.


  • There’s the chipping and cracking factor of prodding along frozen ground.  This is mostly for the barefoot horses.  Be vigilant, especially if you have extended the time between Farrier visits because of the slower hoof growth in winter.  



Little puddle that turned into an ice patch. 



Same puddle a few days later.


What you can do:


  • Find more appropriate footing to use for your horse’s exercise.  Or he gets some days off.  Trailer out, drag an area to see if it can become usable, stick to walking in safe spots. 


  • Adjust the gait you are going in.  Think long and hard about trotting and cantering on frozen ground.  And then don't do it. 


  • Help your horse with traction.  Shod horses can have borium added to their shoes, or use studs, or even special ice nails.  Soles can be protected with pads.  Barefoot horses have a zillion types of hoof boots to pick from.  


  • Consider the paddock and field footing also.  If you have some grass, you might be ok in terms of traction.  But you still have the uneven hard stuff underneath.  Or can you turn out in a safe round pen or small lot?  Explore your options. 


Have fun this winter and keep all of your horse’s feet underneath him!