Should I pull my horse’s shoes in winter?
For as long as I can remember, which is a long time as I am old, it’s been common to pull horseshoes in winter as your horse has a little break from training and competing. Fast forward to today, and things are a bit different. One, I know a lot more about hoof care than I did decades ago. Two, I forgot what I was going to say. Three, I now live in actual seasons, which means more of this stuff is relevant to me. And, I have friends that live basically at the North Pole so I can pepper them with horse questions, too.
Now I’ll get down to it (finally!). Reasons to pull your horse’s shoes in winter:
- You’re going to save some dough. Shoes are def more expensive than having your horse be barefoot. BUT - can he handle the footing?
- His exercise routine is reduced. Limited daylight, stupid cold weather, your school schedule, you name it. Sometimes horses just rest in winter.
- His number one talent is making hoof snowballs. Dangerous yes, reduced when barefoot yes.
- Let things just chill and breathe. For SOME horses, being barefoot lets things expand and get back to a less supported state. For SOME horses, being barefoot is basically like unraveling the seams and all H. E. Double Hockeysticks breaks loose.
Sometimes, when the snow is just right, even the barefoot horse can start making snowballs.
Reasons to keep him shod in the winter:
- His feet are too tender without shoes. This is common for any horse transitioning, and if you are going barefoot for retirement, you can work through it. MORE TIPS HERE! But for a few weeks or months, is it worth the discomfort to your horse?
- You keep riding! I’m a firm believer in warm fuzzy clothing for me and keeping my horse active in winter, for loads of reasons, including these….found in another riveting article.
Your farrier also has pads and inserts to help keep snowballs from forming.
- Your climate doesn’t give you much snow. Shoes love to collect snow into balls, but if it’s cold without snow, or occasional snow, NBD.
- The ground gets HARD. Frozen ground is dangerous. Bruises and road founder-type conditions exist, even if your horse doesn’t escape and run around like a fool. Uneven frozen ground creates spikes that can harm even the shod horse.
- He has thin soles! Or navicular syndrome! Or he has had laminitis and needs XYZ special shoes! Or whatever! A few quick x-rays will give you the answer for sure, although I’ll bet your Farrier can tell you.
Factors to consider:
- How much snow there really is. Lots of snow for weeks at a time is usually fine for barefoot horses. Barefoot hooves resist snowballing, and constant snow on the ground is some barrier between dangerous frozen ground and your horse. A fluffy cushion, if you will.
- Snow is one thing, but what about ice? You might find that shoes with some barium are much better for icy climates.
- Your horse’s medical history. Bruises and abscesses and laminitis and unbalances and poor hoof wall in your horse’s medical history all need to be considered. Your Vet and Farrier are there to help - get your team together to plan!
Some barefoot horses benefit from some oil on their hooves before turnout.
- How much you love to ride! Horses that quickly transition from shod to barefoot might need some time to get used to things. It might take weeks. This might put your riding schedule on hold a bit.
- Do you have support boots available for the transition? Hoof boots are a great tool to help the shod to barefoot transition - now only for turnout, but for riding, too! More on hoof boots here! But remember that if you pulled shoes to save dough, you’re gonna shell it out on some durable and appropriate hoof boots.
The ground and what covers it might help you decide if pulling shoes is best.
And really it boils down to this - talk to your Vet AND Farrier about your horse, the climate you live in, your riding situation, and even your horse’s diet… THEN decide about pulling shoes.