Winter’s a great time to pull your horse’s shoes for a while. Going barefoot even for a few weeks is beneficial to the feet. Heels and frogs spread to become more robust, walls and soles thicken, sole depth increases. Without the constraints of a shoe, the horse is free to move and break over in the most comfortable and natural way for his conformation and any areas of injury/pain he may be experiencing.
For an astute farrier, these barefoot wear patterns can provide valuable information for future shoeing. Horses with smoldering abscesses will often bring them to a head quickly once they are barefoot. Nail holes get a chance to grow out so that when shoes do go back on the farrier will have good hoof wall to work with in placing the nails.
Barefoot horses are usually also more surefooted on treacherous ground and avoid the strain and torque on joints that can occur when traction devices are on shoes.
Horses that are barefoot year round typically have no trouble at all handling winter ground conditions, including frozen, unyielding, irregular ground surfaces. However, if the horse is shod most of the year, a few extra steps can ensure the transition to barefoot occurs smoothly.
• The edges of the hoof wall should be carefully rounded to help avoid chipping.
• The sole in the toe area should be mostly left untouched, if possible.
• The sole behind the point of the frog can be taken down as needed to find the natural sole plane and trim the heels and bars.
• The frog should have only excessive or frayed tissue removed, since this is the horse’s major cushion and shock absorber.
• Use hoof boots to help with the transition between shoes and barefoot, if the horse is extremely tender-footed. Most horses with reasonably healthy feet can be weaned from their boots over two to four weeks, by gradually but steadily decreasing the amount of time the boots are worn each day.
• Apply Venice turpentine (from your tack or feed store) to the sole to ease tenderness and encourage it to toughen up.
• Keep your regular six-to-eight week farrier schedule. While hooves tend to grow slower in winter, your farrier schedule shouldn’t change. Freed of shoes, your horse’s hooves can change dramatically in a short period of time.