What you choose to do with your horse's winter hoof care really depends on a couple of things. Do you plan on riding a lot? Will you be riding mostly indoors, outdoors, in the snow, on rough terrain? The shoes are mainly there to protect your horse's hooves and give them added traction. We'll cover some points to consider when deciding what route to take with your horse's hoof care, but also recommend consulting with your regular hoof care professional. Your farrier or trimmer will have a good idea of the condition of your horse's hooves and their material, in order to help you make an informed decision.
If you plan on riding mostly indoors on soft, groomed footing, or not riding much at all, it can be good to give your horse some time without shoes if the hoof material and toughness will support that. Some benefits of giving your horse some barefoot time include allowing the hoof to expand and toughen up, particularly in the sole. If your horse is on pads regularly, some time without them will allow the hoof to breath and with treatment may help reduce or eliminate any possible bacterial development like thrush.
If your horse has poor hoof material or very sensitive hooves, going barefoot may not be the best choice. The hard ground in the winter can add to breakage and chipping, and could cause the tender-footed horse un-necessary pain, bruising, and possibly accesses. This will vary on a case by case basis. Sometimes going barefoot can help toughen the sole and develop calluses that may alleviate some sensitivity. This is something you should discuss with your hoof care provider.
If you plan to keep your horse on shoes in the winter, they NEED studs for traction and pads to help prevent the development of snow balls. Shoes without traction are dangerously slippery. Snow balls and ice build up inside the hoof, and can cause tendon and ligament injuries, bruising, and further inhibits traction. Discuss with your hoof care provider what kind of riding and terrain you plan on encountering so that they can give your horse an appropriate amount and type of traction on the shoes. Snow ball pads are either a rim pad around the inside of the shoe, or full rubber pads that have a rounded part in the middle. Both types work well.
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