Cold temperatures, dry air, frozen ground and alternate drying and soaking from snow and melting can cause a variety of problems including:
• Slowed hoof growth
• Snow buildup
• Sole bruises.
While we’re not big fans of routinely painting hooves, as you can oversoften them, your horse’s normally good-quality hooves may show the effects of harsh conditions and need some help to head off problems. Our favorite hoof dressings include:
• Farnam Rain Maker (www.farnamhorse.com, 800-234-2269),
• Animal Legends Equine Hoof Dressing (www.animallegends.com 800-3399-7387),
• Corona Hoof Dressing (www.summitinds.com 800-241-6996).
As a general choice for winter, we’ll reach first for Corona, which is an excellent combination of a hoof conditioner and protection for the coronary band. Yes, we recommend you work it into the coronary band as well when you apply it.
Corona Hoof Dressing is high in lanolin, nongreasy and helps preserve moisture and oils in the hoof. Even your chapped-hand problems will benefit.
A little goes a long way and one application every other day is usually sufficient. It also has some antiseptic properties. It’s economical at about $12 for a three-pound tub and widely available.
Rain Maker ($21.40/qt.) and Animal Legends ($12.95/qt.) both penetrate well, without oversoftening the feet. Both products last a long time, lengthening the time between applications, without developing a waxy buildup. Animal Legends seems somewhat more resistant to being washed off, which may be an advantage in wet weather. They’re both liquids you can paint on the hoof and sole, so we suggest you use one of these if you don’t like working with the thicker ointments, like Corona.
For chipping/cracking hooves, brittle soles, frogs and bulbs it’s hard to beat Hawthorne’s Sole Pack (www.hawthorneproducts.com 765-768-6585). Although available as a paint-on liquid, we prefer the gummy black version that conforms and adheres well to the feet but is easy to remove. It has an excellent conditioning effect without oversoftening, soothes soreness and is antimicrobial. Sole Pack is available in individually packed paddies for around $1.50 each and in an eight-pound tub for about $40.
Sole Pack can be a little difficult to work with until you get the hang of it. It helps to store it in a warm place and use a knife or ice-cream scoop dipped in hot water to heat it for removing the packing from the bucket.
We like to take a scoop, put it into a plastic sandwich bag and then mold and shape the ball of packing into a flattened shape for application to the sole and heels. For extra soothing and comfort, heat for 30 seconds or so in the microwave. Heating time will vary depending on your microwave and the thickness of the packing being heated.
If your horse’s sore soles respond well to poulticing, try using a heated poultice in winter. Warm poulticing can quickly soothe and warm sore soles, and most poultices are relatively inexpensive. Place it directly on the sole, then add a piece of damp brown paper to help hold the pack in place longer. Note: We have a field trial underway on different poultice products, which will appear in an upcoming issue.
Horses with tough, healthy feet can get sore from traveling over rough frozen ground. We would recommend first using Venice turpentine (www.farnamhorse.com 800-234-2269), Tuff-Foot (888-883-3668) or Hawthorne’s Sole Pack (www.hawthorneproducts.com 765-768-6585) on the horse’s sole. These products help toughen up the sole so it better resists bruises.
Some people opt to leave shoes on the horse throughout the winter to protect from bruising. We prefer to give the horse’s feet a break from shoes during the slower riding season, but shoes will help protect his soles. If you choose shoeing, discuss with your farrier options for added traction in snowy climates and consider snow pads and/or studs. With severely bruised soles, you may have no choice but shoes and a protective pad.
However, we suggest you consider trying an Easy Boot (www.easycare.com 800-447-8836) first. We think it provides more protection over frozen ground and is a simpler short-term option. Unlike most basic protective/poultice boots, the Easy Boot is designed for use when you ride the horse as well.
We especially like the secure fit and low back cut of Easy Boots, which avoids heel bulb irritation so common with many other designs. They’re around $43 each and extremely durable. We’ve had no unusual problems with fit or the boots staying in place during our trials. They’re also an economical choice for a multi-purpose hoof boot you can use to ride in, turn out, or poulticing.
If you do choose to try Easy Boots, turn your horse out in them before you ride him with them on, so he has a chance to become accustomed to the feel of them without you on his back. Some horses react unfavorably to new boots on their legs, especially those not familiar with wearing anything on their legs.