The birds are singing, the weather is balmy, and you and your horse are delighted to be rid of the hard, frozen ground that even a perfectly sound horse can find uncomfortable underfoot. Spring may bring its own set of hoof challenges, though, and you need to be prepared for them so your horse doesn't develop problems that could end up curtailing your riding time.
Warm temperatures, increased activity, and soft ground conditions that limit wear may mean that your horse's feet will need more frequent attention at this time of year. Horses that may go eight weeks between trims in the winter may need a trim every four to six weeks in the spring to keep the feet well balanced. Maintaining a good trim schedule will keep feet at their healthiest, help prevent strain and lameness, and reduce the chances you'll run into other spring-related problems.
Talk to your farrier about what objective measures you should use to decide when your horse needs a trim. For example, a common rule is to get a trim after no more than three-eighths to one-half inch of new growth. You can keep track of this a couple of ways. Measure the distance from coronary band to shoe (or ground) right after a trim, and start to re-measure weekly after about four weeks. Or, you can put a dot of nail polish on the top of the hoof wall, just under the coronary band, and keep track of how far it has grown down. Also, get attention ASAP if any of the following problems develop.
Spring means mud, and mud means lost shoes. Just about everyone runs into this annoying problem eventually. At best, it means lost riding time while you wait for your farrier to get to you (at his busiest time of year, of course). At worst, it can mean damage to the hoof wall.
When and where there is heavy mud, avoid turning your horses out. In addition to lost shoes, injuries from slipping, falling or twisting legs are also a risk. If the mud is unavoidable, the simplest solution is to leave your horse barefoot until ground conditions improve.
If shoes are going to stay on:
• Ask that nails be clinched rather that cut off flush with the hoof wall if the horse has strong, high-quality hooves. This gives the nails more grip. However, if walls are thin, weak or brittle, best to cut the nails off at hoof surface so a chunk of hoof wall isn't torn off if the shoe is likely to get sucked off in the mud.
• Use side clips on the shoes for added security.
• Avoid pads if at all possible because pads decrease the security of the nail grip.
• Check shoes daily. If loose, get this fixed before putting the horse back out in the mud. If the shoe is properly secured to the foot, you shouldn't be able to move it or see daylight between the shoe and the bottom of the foot.
• Shorten the interval between trims and resets. Friction in the nail holes makes them widen over time and loosens the grip.
It's wise to keep a hoof boot or two on hand in the event of lost shoes. Hooves that have been trimmed for shoes do not have the rounded edges at ground surface that barefoot horses have. This makes them more prone to chipping and cracking. Shod horses also usually have thinner, flatter soles. It's also common for some hoof damage to occur when shoes are lost. Having a boot on hand will allow you to protect the hoof and prevent further damage.