From  Horse and Rider - UK - Jan. 2016


Ground conditions in winter can play havoc with horses' hooves, but with a little TLC you can greatly reduce the damage caused. Here are Horse&Rider's top tips for maintaining great feet

With winter comes hard, frozen footing one minute and wet, boggy ground the next, neither of which are ideal conditions for your horse's hooves. Hard, lumpy terrain can cause bruising to the soles and when it's very wet, hooves can become over-saturated and too soft, so that they lose their structural integrity, and become more permeable to bacteria and fungi. And if you're moving your horse to and from wet grazing and a stable full of dry, absorbent bedding, the wet-dry cycle can weaken hooves and make them prone to cracking.

When horses' hooves become wet, they expand and

when they dry out, they contract. If the hooves expand

and contract frequently, it can cause the foot to become

weak and crack

The main hoof problems seen in winter include

* Bruising caused by hard ground

* Thrush caused by standing in wet, muddy fields or on dirty bedding

* Cracked, brittle feet from frequent changes between wet and dry conditions

* White line disease caused by standing in wet, muddy and unhygienic conditions

* Abscesses often caused by bruising or standing in a wen muddy field

There is little that can be done about how the weather affects the ground, but with a few stable management tweaks, you can limit the negative effects it has on your horse's feet, Hooves grow slower in winter, so it takes longer for damage to grow out, making prevention of problems all the more important.

1. Ensure your horse is receiving a balanced diet I so that he has all the vitamins and minerals he needs to grow strong, healthy hooves. If he is not eating hard feed or is not having the full quota recommended on the bag, consider giving him a feed balancer. If his feet aren't particularly good despite a good diet, he may require a hoof supplement - your farrier will be able to advise you as to whether this is necessary. Key ingredients for good hoof health include biotin, methionine, lysine, copper and zinc.

2.  Try to prevent frequent, extreme changes from wet to dry ground conditions. When horses' hooves become wet, they expand and when they dry out, they contract. If the hooves expand and contract frequently, it can cause them to become weak and crack. When feet dry out slowly, as they would in the wild, the damage is minimal, but the faster they expand and contract, the more damage is done. There are topical applications available that help prevent the hoof taking up excess moisture, which will help reduce the amount the feet expand and, therefore, contract.

3.  Regular visits from your farrier will help to keep your horse's hooves in the best condition possible. Keeping them trimmed will protect against problems such as cracks, and if your farrier is seeing you horse regularly, he'll be able to pick up on developing problems early and advise you on how best to put them right.

4.  Snow isn't a huge problem for most of the UK, but with more snow falling across the country in recent years, it's a good idea to know how to cope in these conditions. Greasing the bottom of your horse's hooves with something like petroleum jelly will help to prevent snow balling up in his feet.

5. With the lack of daylight and the weather being less than ideal for riding, many horses tend to do less work in the winter than in the summer. However, exercise stimulates blood flow in the foot, so it's important for hoof health and growth, meaning it's important to give him as much exercise as you can.

6. Pick out feet regularly, it's a simple everyday task, but is one of the most important things you can do to help keep your horse's feet free from problems, such as thrush. Use this opportunity to inspect his feel closely for any problems  that may be brewing.

Did you know?

You won't be able to improve the condition of your horse's hooves quickly. The hoof wall is dead tissue, so once it has been damaged, it can't be repaired. Therefore, you need to support healthy hoof growth and wait for the new hoof wall to grow down.

Did you know?

It can take nine to 12 months for the hoof to fully grow out at the toe. Foals hooves grow about 15mm a month, but by the time horses are adults, the rate of growth slows to around 10mm per month.

7.  Avoid leaving your horse standing in a wet, muddy field for too long. Take steps such as creating more than one gateway and installing ground reinforcement to prevent the ground becoming boggy in the first place. If your horse's field is already a quagmire, provide somewhere dry for him to stand and if he's receiving hay, feed it there. Long-term solutions include a concrete base or area of hardstanding, but a thick pad of straw can work just as well, although bear in mind that it will kill any grass underneath it.

8. Ensure your horse's bedding is as dry and clean as possible, and frequently check that his feet are free from manure and urine-soaked bedding.

9. Apply topical applications to Its feet when necessary, but use them carefully. There are various different products for all different types of hoof condition, but using the wrong one could make the problem worse - for example, applying a hoof moisturizer when too much moisture in the hoof is causing the problem wont help the situation. It can be difficult to tell what the condition of your horse's feet is - for example, feet that are over-saturated with water look shiny and healthy, but they are actually weak - so ask your farrier whether your horse needs any topical dressings and if so, what type.

10. When your horse comes in muddy from the field, it can be tempting to hose his legs and feet off, but this will make the problem of too much moisture in the feet even worse. Alternatively, use the side of a hoof pick to scrape off the worst of the mud. His hooves won't be immaculately clean, but it will prevent clumps of mud drying on them.