Pulling Shoes for Winter
by F. Thomas Breningstall

"What are your thoughts about pulling shoes in off season?" asks a reader from northern Illinois. "I worry about hoof problems if I don't pull the shoes. We use borium or studs for the ice, but I have heard that older horses need time for the hoof to grow and repair."

In horses that are shod year around, I like to pull the shoes for at least one shoeing cycle (six to eight weeks). But sometimes after the shoes are pulled the feet fall apart, and shoeing the next time is a challenge. I have many horses that are shod year around, have good hooves, and never have a problem. Then again, I have many horses with lousy hooves that need shoes all the time or they can't walk. So whether or not you pull the shoes depends on your and your horse's needs.

"Last winter our horses were trimmed but unshod so they could walk on snow and ice better, and their hooves were great," writes a reader in Denver. "This year their hooves were tender, you could tell they hurt, and they didn't want to walk. We have never had this problem before."

It sounds to me as if your farrier was a little generous with the trimming, and cut your horses' feet too short, making them a little softer and tender. Every farrier I know, including me, has at some time trimmed a horse too short. It's sometimes hard to tell how thick the sole of the hoof is and we pare it a little thin and the horse will be lame.

If this happened in your case you should see improvement in a week to ten days. In a severe case, and if you need to use the horse sooner, shoeing with pads between the hoof and shoe should offer relief. To speed up the relief time you may also paint the bottom of the hoof with iodine once a day for five days, which for some reason toughens up the sole.

"Is it necessary to shoe all fours hooves," asks a reader from Saugerties, New York, "or can you leave the back two without shoes for the winter?"

You may shoe just the front feet for winter, but only if you don't work your horses on ice or hard-packed snow. Deep snow or frozen ground may be okay with just front winter shoes. For optimal winter traction, the shoes should have borium or other traction devices and a snow pad or flat pad between the hoof and shoe.

"I'm interested in using alternative shoes—nylon or composition-type. What's available and which do you recommend?" asks an Illinois reader. "I use my Quarterhorse for driving, and with winter coming these shoes would be used less."

Many alternative shoes are available for winter use. Check with a farrier's supply store in your area to see first hand what they have that you like.

For winter I like steel shoes with borium (tungsten carbide) added to the heels and toes. You may also use Drill-Tek, or screw-in or drive-in studs. Nail the shoes on with snow pads or flat plastic pads between the shoe and hoof.

If you prefer plastic or composite shoes, make sure the shoe has borium inlaid in the shoe for traction, as plastic shoes without traction are slippery on grass, ice, snow, and frozen ground. If you use your horse little in the winter, Easyboot makes a boot with borium studs that may be put on when you use the horse. These boots are available for a horse your size, but unfortunately are not available in draft size.

"My gelding has grooves down the front of his hooves that you can lay your little finger in. All his feet show cracks from the ground up, some going all the way to the coronary band. Does he need feed supplements or what? I bought some Biotin-plus-80 hoping that would help," says a Missouri reader. "We pulled his shoes this month and are trying to leave them off until February to give him a 'shoe break.'

"From February until November he lives in a stall with pine shavings as his bedding. His stall is cleaned frequently and his shoes are reset approximately every six weeks. At this time he is on grass pasture, no grain. We bought him this summer and thought his hoof growth was slow. He did show hoof growth and he did not lose shoes while stalled. He is sound and we are keeping his hooves trimmed close to help prevent breakage. Are we doing the wrong thing?"

Stalling a horse for ten months of the year is not conducive to healthy hooves. A natural exchange of moisture needs to take place between the horse's hooves and the environment, and pine shavings tend to dry out the hoof. Also hooves are made stronger by use—work or free roaming exercise—for more than one hour a day.

Pulling shoes for two months is a good idea, and so is the Biotin-plus-80. When you put shoes on him in February try side clips to help hold the foot together, and use leather pads with hoof packing that contains pine tar or other medicated and moisturizing compounds. If the cracks open up, you may need to use hoof staples to hold the hoof together. A hoof takes up to one year to grow out from top to bottom, so by this time next year your horse may be crack free.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a certified and full-time farrier in Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in Holiday 1999 issue.

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31 October 2011 last revision