For most of us, winter brings with it that delightful menu of snow, ice, and cold temperatures, all of which lead to unique horse management challenges. If you have plans for an active winter on horseback, especially with a horse that wears shoes year-round, you'll have to consider the footing around the stable, in the arenas, and on the trails in order to avoid a common winter mishap: the slip and fall.
One example: You're tacking up in the stable, getting ready for a lesson in the arena. Between you and the arena is an expanse of partially-cleared parking lot covered in snow that's packed to ice. Can you get from one place to another without injury? Even such a short journey can be treacherous, and a horse that slips and falls on ice can easily pull a stifle or even sustain a fracture?not to mention injure its rider or handler. It's unfortunately not uncommon to see mortality claims this time of year for horses that were euthanized due to injuries sustained in a slip and fall.
Or maybe you're hacking and your horse has difficulty coping with balled-up snow packing in his feet. What do you do?
There are some temporary quick-fixes. You can visit your stud kit for temporary traction help from the same screw-in collection that helps you on cross-country day. Hoof boots often aren't as slippery on snow (and prevent snow packing). Another option is to apply Vaseline, ski wax, or other products to the sole of the hoof to reduce snow packing. However, if you plan regular riding in winter conditions, you will want a more permanent solution.
There are many traction devices available to combat whatever Mother Nature might toss your way. Some people like drive-in caulks or shoes with permanent caulks attached. Many farriers use spots of borium or other composites on the toes and heels of the shoe to give your horse extra grip.
There are some drawbacks to adding permanent traction devices though. A horse's foot is designed to hit the ground and slide. The extra torque created with calks or other products can put more strain on the legs than you might expect, which could lead to injury, so it's important to weight the risks on both sides carefully.
To evade the snowball effect, there are a variety of rim pad options that have proven effective over the years. You should consult with a trusted farrier to discuss what products are the most practical and effective for the weather in your area.
When riding on ice or snow, take it slow and monitor whether you have good purchase on the footing. On hills, your horse will be better able to balance if you go straight up and down, rather than crabbing sideways. If you get off your horse to lead up and down hills, keep in mind that your own traction might not be so great. Keep well to the side of your horse so that a fall by one of you won't injure the other.
And if a slip and fall does cause an injury to your horse, be very glad that you have insurance coverage to help with the rehab and treatment expense.
This article was written by Candi Kline of Broadstone Equine Insurance Agency, the Official Equine Insurance Provider of the US Eventing Association. Located in Middleburg, Virginia, Candi reports that there was a snowstorm there a few days ago, followed by freezing rain.
Thanks to the USEA for allowing this good advice to be posted here.
For some step-by-step advice on winter shoeing, scroll down to find the December blog post with a link to Martha Stewart's blog, which shows step-by-step construction of borium-encrusted shoes and anti-snowball pads for her Friesians at her farm in upstate New York.