Ice and snow are common winter footing concerns, but mud can be just as treacherous for your horse this season.
For starters, there is the risk of slipping in slick, shallow mud. Left to choose his own speed, however, a horse can typically navigate such terrain safely. So don’t worry too much about slipping risk during turnout and let your horse choose his own pace when you encounter muddy footing during a ride.
The bigger concern is deep, thick, “sucking” mud that seems to pull hooves and legs into its depths. The force it takes to pull a foot free with each step can lead to lost shoes, pulled tendons and overreach injuries as a horse lurches forward to escape its hold. If an area of mud is deep enough to pull your own boots off, you want to keep your horse clear of it, especially if he has trouble holding shoes or has had a tendon injury in the past.
If your property has mud of this depth, find higher, drier ground for turnout and look into whether your drainage situation can be improved. Areas around gates and water troughs, as well as other perpetually mucky ground, can be “hardened” with landscaping fabric or gravel. This can be pricey, but is a worthwhile investment if it protects shoes and hooves.
If you come across deep mud on a trail, pick your way around it, deferring to your horse’s judgment when possible---most are fairly adept at finding the best route around dicey footing.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #472, January 2017.