Winter Hoof Cracks and Care
 By Winniefield Park   •   3rd Jan 2016   •   2,122 views   •   0 comments
Winter Hoof Cracks and Care

Ice and frozen ground can leave your horse’s hooves ragged and even cracked. Rough edges can be smoothed out the next time your farrier visits and really aren’t a concern. But cracks are a bit trickier. Your horse’s hooves grow about about an inch per month (slower in winter) and that means cracks can take a long time to grow out, and can lead to some serious problems if ignored.

Hoof cracks can run vertically or horizontally on a hoof, and and vary from a hair width to a gaping crevice that reveals the next layer in the hoof structure. If you see a horizontal crack on your horse’s hooves, that probably means there was an injury caused by an impact. A horizontal crack can also indicate the exit point of a hoof abscess. These usually grow out and disappear once the hoof is trimmed.

Vertical cracks can be a sign of injury or problems like white line disease that allows the hoof wall to separate from the layer beneath. But cracks can also be caused by concussion, poor trimming, or from working or standing on rough, hard ground. Frozen surfaces, especially if they’re uneven, such as frozen mud can chip and crack horse’s hooves. Add in wet conditions, and hooves can take a lot of abuse in winter.

Related: Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Lower Leg

Logically, horses should stay off of frozen, rough surfaces, but that’s not always possible. There are a few additional things you can do however to avoid hoof cracks. Here are some ideas:

Good Nutrition
Healthy hooves start with good nutrition. Good hay and supplements will help keep your horse healthy overall. Nutrition also includes water, which should be available all the time. Some people feel adding a biotin supplement helps promote growth. It may or may not promote thickness, which is ideally what we’d like to see.

Regular Trimming
Your horse’s hooves will not be as likely to crack if you have it trimmed regularly. This prevents toes from getting overgrown, flares from spreading and other problems that weaken the hoof and leave it prone to cracking. Hoof growth tends to slow down in the winter months, so you may be able to stretch the time between trims, but don’t be tempted to skip them altogether.

A Dry Escape
If particularly wet weather makes a sloppy mess of your pastures and paddocks keep your horse in a dry spot for part of the day. Wet hooves can crack, and may benefit from some time to dry out. And if a paddock is frozen into lumps and bumps, let your horse spend some time in a flat area that isn’t as rough.

Hoof Ointments and Oils
There’s some debate as to whether applying hoof ointments has any real effect, and some think it may even be detrimental. For cracks caused by winter wear and tear, they probably won’t have much effect. Talk to your farrier about this one.

Yep, I said shoes. If all else fails, try shoes. If you have snow to worry about, add snow pads that will pop out any balls of snow that pack onto the underside of the hoof. This will protect your horse until spring, when you can return to your freewheeling barefoot ways.

Long Term Paddock and Pasture Care
Hard, uneven surfaces aren’t just hard on your horse’s hooves, but on their legs in general. If your paddock or portions of your pasture turn into frozen bumps and rocks, consider improving the the drainage.This can mean moving or adding soil, channeling water flow and even altering fence lines. This is a big project but can make life easier, safer and more comfortable for everyone.
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