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Winter Hoof Health

Beat Your Winter Hoof Woes

Reprinted from

By RW Crew | 1/16/20

"No Hoof, No Horse"

You might have heard this expression, but have you really considered how important your horse's hooves are to his overall well-being? Hooves support your horse's weight, withstand impact while he performs, and make him capable of navigating different types of terrain. Needless to say, proper hoof care is a crucial aspect of owning a horse. Even if you keep your horse on a consistent schedule with a farrier that you trust, the winter can still create challenges in your hoof care regimen.

We created this guide to explain:

  • How different weather conditions affect the horse's foot

  • Common winter hoof problems and how to spot them

  • Prevention tips and treatment options

The Effects of Climate on Hooves

Mud can have a significant impact on your horse's hoof health.

Depending on where you live, winter can bring everything from dreaded shoe-sucking muck to rock-hard frozen ground. If you live in a place where it gets cold, you may notice that your skin gets extra dry during the winter. The same is true for your horse's feet. Lower moisture content in the air can make your horse's hoof wall more susceptible to cracks while also causing slower growth, making it tricky to grow out these defects.

Climates that experience heavy rain have a different effect on your horse's hooves than climates that are dry. As we know, rain brings mud, which makes life around the barn much more difficult. From lost shoes to thrush and abscesses, there are many problems that are more likely to appear during the rainy season.

Common Hoof Problems and Treatments

By keeping the hoof wrapped or booted, the wall will stay intact so that your farrier can nail on a new shoe.

Lost Shoes

  • Problem: While it's simple to spot a missing shoe, it can be frustrating when this becomes a common occurrence. There are many reasons why you might have a problem keeping shoes on your horse, one being moisture changes in the environment. As the hooves expand and contract, the shoe could loosen making it more susceptible to being pulled off. A horse's conformation and natural balance also plays a role in his ability to keep shoes on, as some horses travel in a way that causes them to grab their front shoes with the hind feet.

  • Treatment: A lost shoe warrants a call to your farrier. While you are waiting for your farrier to make it out, try to keep the foot wrapped or in a hoof boot so that the wall doesn't become damaged.

  • Prevention: Try to keep your horse out of the mud. If he seems to lose shoes because his feet are brittle, you can try a hoof supplement to encourage strength. If he steps on himself, put on bell boots when you ride or when he is turned out in the paddock.


  • Problem: You pick up your horse's hoof to clean it out and notice black, smelly discharge in the crevices in and around his frog. This residue is caused by a bacterial infection known as thrush. When your horse's hoof becomes impacted with dirt and manure, the anaerobic microbes that cause thrush thrive in the absence of oxygen. Eventually, these microbes penetrate the tissue of the frog causing it to decay. In the worst cases, the infection can reach deeper tissue in the hoof leading to inflammation and lameness.

  • Treatment: Your farrier will cut away the diseased tissue, potentially applying an antiseptic solution. Other treatments, such as anti-thrush products, can be used as follow up.

  • Prevention: Keep your horse from standing in unsanitary conditions whenever possible. Regular hoof care and exercise helps to keep your horse's hooves healthy and clean, so that he is less likely to have a problem with thrush.


  • Problem: The symptoms of a hoof abscess can appear suddenly, causing severe lameness. The horse is often non-weight bearing on the affected foot due to the pressure caused by the abscess. Abscesses can cause heat in the foot, which you can feel by cupping the outside of the hoof. The digital pulse in the affected leg is often more evident, due to throbbing. If you have hoof testers, you can check for your horse's reaction to pressure on the foot to locate the abscess.

  • Treatment: In some cases, your farrier or vet may be able to create a pathway for the abscess to drain using their hoof knife. Soaking the hoof in a warm Epsom salt solution, as well as keeping it packed with a drawing agent (such as poultice), can encourage the abscess to drain on its own.

  • Prevention: Abscesses occur when bacteria gains entry into the tissues of the hoof and can be caused by everything from softening of the sole due to moisture, to separation of the white line, or a puncture wound. The best way to prevent abscesses is with routine hoof care and farrier work to prevent any cracks or separation where bacteria can enter the hoof. It is also helpful to keep your horse out of wet conditions that soften the hoof sole.

  • Note: If your horse has an acute case of lameness, you should always check the leg for cuts, swelling, or abnormal bumps. You should also pick out the hoof and check the foot for foreign objects that may be wedged inside.

Hoof Wall Cracks

  • Problem: While hoof cracks are often cosmetic, it's important to distinguish when they could be a serious issue. The severity of this hoof problem can be determined by the type, location, and depth of the crack. Hoof cracks that are so deep or long that they compromise the stability of the hoof wall are cause for concern. Cracks that originate at the coronary band can affect the growth of new hoof and should be addressed in a timely manner. Finally, if you notice blood coming from the hoof crack or lameness related to it, you should contact your farrier as soon as possible.

  • Treatment: While minor cases of hoof wall cracks can be solved in one or two trims, more severe cases might require veterinary attention.

  • Prevention: There are many causes of hoof cracks, including injury or disease that weakens the hoof wall, poor hoof conformation, abnormal forces on the hoof, as well as environmental factors. Ideally, try to catch the problem in its early stages. Make a habit of looking for changes in your horse's hooves on a regular basis and stay on a schedule with your farrier to avoid hoof issues before they begin. If you find that your horse tends to have weak, shelly hooves, you can use hoof conditioner or try a hoof supplement to combat against cracks.

Sole Bruises

  • Problem: Pressure or direct trauma to the underside of the hoof can cause the small blood vessels in the sole to rupture, leading to inflammation and pain in your horse's foot. Sole bruises can be caused by something as simple as stepping on a rock or traversing uneven ground. In muddy climates the hoof softens due to moisture, making it more prone to bruises. In colder climates, your horse may experience sole bruises if snow becomes balled up in his feet or if he steps on frozen lumps of mud. Depending on the extent of the bruising, your horse may experience mild to severe lameness.

  • Treatment: To aid in healing, you should try to protect the hoof from further trauma if you suspect a sole bruise. This could mean taking a break from riding altogether or restricting activity to soft ground.

  • Prevention: If your horse has thin soles or if you often ride on rocky ground, you should talk to your farrier about options for protecting your horse's feet. In wet environments, you can try a hoof hardener to toughen the sole. Picking out your horse's hooves can remove rocks and other objects that could cause a sole bruise. To prevent snowballing, you can apply vegetable oil to the underside of the hoof.

Hoof Care Tips

When the weather gets chilly and precipitation falls from the sky, you must take extra care to ensure your horse is healthy and happy. To stay on top of any hoof problems that might develop during the winter, consider taking time to pick out your horse's feet on a regular basis and inspect them for abnormalities. You should consult with your farrier to create a schedule that suits your horse, then follow that plan as closely as possible.

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