Preventing Hoof Freeze and Snowballs
 By Winniefield Park   •   15th Nov 2014   •   6,632 views   •   0 comments

My son texted me this morning to let me know that itís snowing where he is working, an hour north of home. As they kept saying in Game of Thrones, Ďwinter is comingí. And if you live far enough north, snow will come with it. Working with horses in the snow is challenging. First, your toes freeze. There may be an upside to this, as you wonít feel your horse stepping on your foot until it defrosts and you have time to look after it. And snow freezes in your horseís feet too. This is uncomfortable, and can cause serious bruising and strains.

For those of you who have never contended with snowballs, hereís what happens. Warmth from the horseís hoof causes a thin layer of water to form as it stands in the snow. The water then freezes, and more snow sticks to the ice. Snow keeps building until thereís a big ball stuck to the underside of your horseís hoof. It can freeze so hard, that itís incredibly difficult to remove. You canít pound or pry the snow/ice out, because you could hurt your horse. Special pointed and curved ice hammers were used by the pioneers, but I wouldnít trust my aim to use one. You canít pour warm water on it, because that will just freeze again once the horse is back standing in the snow. Hot water is out of the question.

Related: Your Horse from the Ground Up - Part One - The Hoof
Related: Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Lower Leg - Part 1
Related: Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Hindquarters
Related: Natural Farrier Website Gives A Holistic Approach to Hoof Care

The problem is worse if your horse wears shoes during the winter. The combination of the warm hoof and chilly metal makes the ice build up hard and fast. The upside of shoeing in winter is that ice pads can be applied between the hoof and the shoe. You can use flat pads, but they might not be ideal and hide whatís going on under the bottom of the hoof. Rim pads are designed so that when any ice builds up, they flex and pop the ice ball loose. They are very effective and they donít cover the entire bottom of the hoof, so you can still get in to clean and check the health of the sole.

There are bubble pads that cover the entire underside of the hoof, and have a flexible half sphere of rubber in the middle that flexes as the horse walks in the snow. All pads need to be checked for wear and cleaned regularly.

Iíve tried a few different things over the years on my barefoot horses and most only work for a short time. Cooking oil, applied with a brush to the bottom of the hoof will prevent the ice from adhering until the oil wears off. It might get you through a half-hour mid-winter ride through the snow. Petroleum jelly is cheap and lasts a bit longer.

Iíve also tried my special pan coating oil, which is a tablespoon of liquid lecithin mixed with a cup of cooking oil. Coat your pans with a very thin layer of this stuff and nothing will stick no matter how you scorch your food. It really doesnít work much better than plain cooking oil for preventing snowballs. Cooking sprays are often recommended. I have not tried this, because I donít like the idea of fine mists of goodness-knows-what around my food, horse or myself.

Do you have to contend with snowballs? Whatís your solution to preventing or removing them?
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