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No matter what your event, if you ride outdoors in a temperate climate in the winter, your horse will have some special shoeing needs.
To design your winter hoof care program, consider the natural conformation of your horse's hooves, the level and type of his exercise during the winter months, the footing in his exercise and turn-out areas, the typical weather patterns in your locale, and the expertise of your farrier.
The barefoot horse with a naturally balanced hoof, dense hoof horn, and a well-cupped sole is often able to grip many winter footings without hoof damage. And a naturally concave sole sheds snow, mud, and slush well. However, a hoof with a long toe and low heel, brittle or punky horn, and a flat sole has poor traction and the sole is vulnerable to bruising from frozen ground. During the winter, the hoof growth rate can slow to almost half its spring rate; that means the hoof cannot stand a great deal of abrasive wear. Therefore, for active winter riding, a horse should be shod. Shoeing offers protection for the hoof and helps to maintain proper balance. In addition, winter shoeing can serve two other purposes: providing additional traction and preventing snow-balling.
Traction Various amounts of traction are available depending on the techniques used by your farrier. Rim shoes provide more traction than plain shoes. Aluminum shoes have a slightly better grab on frozen ground because the metal is softer. Aluminum racing plates with toe grabs and/or heel stickers could be appropriate for moderate work in relatively soft footing. Rubber and plastic shoes tend to provide less traction than either the bare hoof or steel shoes and are hard and slippery in cold temperatures.
Steel keg shoes with permanent calks forged at the toe and/or heels sink into semi-frozen ground or "soft" ice and give good traction. However, on hard ice such shoes are dangerously slippery. Removable studs allow for adaptation to the constantly changing winter footing conditions.
A hard surfacing material such as Borium (tungsten carbide) can be applied at the toe and/or heel of the horse's regular steel or aluminum shoes in smears, beads or points. A torch or forge is used to melt the carrier metal and adhere carbide grit or chips of various sizes to the shoe surface. Borium works best when used at a 1/8" to 1/4" thickness on the shoe.
Very effective winter traction devices can be made by applying borium to the heads of 3/16" by 5/16" flat rivets. These traction buttons are inserted into holes drilled in front of or behind the last nail hole and are either brazed or welded in place. Two buttons per shoe will provide sufficient traction for most winter conditions.
Nails with ribbed or specially hardened heads can be substituted for regular horseshoe
nails to allow a horse to grab onto the ground. The treated heads resist
wear and their points dig into ice. The specialized nails are installed
at the mid-point (3rd or 4th nail holes) of the hoof. This provides optimum
traction without adversely affecting the landing or breakover. Usually two
nails are used per shoe.
Anti-Snowballing When mixtures of snow, ice, mud, manure, grass, or bedding accumulate in the sole area, it can pack densely into large rounded ice mounds that are almost impossible to chip out. The jun ction of the inner edge of the shoe with the sole provides a place for the mud and ice to become securely lodged. Snow will melt from the heat of the sole and freeze onto the metal horseshoe and the snow ball will begin. When a horse is forced to stand or move on the snowballs, he has decreased stability in his fetlock joint. His weight is liable to suddenly roll medially, laterally, forward, or backward. It is extremely fatiguing for his muscles, tendons, and joint ligaments as he constantly must make adjustments to maintain his equilibrium. It is easy for a snowballed horse to momentarily lose his balance and wrench a fetlock.
various substances such as grease to the sole of the barefoot or shod horse or
spraying it with a non-stick cooking coating may prevent snow build-up during
certain temperatures, but only temporarily. Half-round shoes do a fair job
of shedding snow because of the inside rounded edge. However, half-rounds
provide poor winter traction so ice nails or borium should be used with them.
Tube-type rim pads which fit between the shoe and the hoof wall leaving the sole open are the best anti-snowballing option. The sole retains it's cupped traction feature, can respire normally, and can descend with weight bearing. As the horse's weight descends on the hoof the pads flex and dislodge the snow that accumulates at the junction of the shoe and sole. Tube pads with open shoes work well in most weather conditions. Bar shoes (egg bar shoes, full support shoes, etc.) will trap snow and not allow the tube pads to do their job as effectively.
There are combinations of snow type and temperature where it is impossible to provide safe traction and prevent snowballing. However, in most types of winter footing, good results can be obtained by a combination of the horse's normal shoes with an application of various traction and anti-snowballing devices.
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