Depending on where you live, winter can require varying degrees of adjustment to your hoof care routine. The colder and snowier the climate, the more there is to consider.
Of course, if the weather is too harsh, your horse should be stabled as necessary. But horses with winter coats can tolerate fairly frigid temperatures and may actually prefer turnout in those conditions in order to exercise and socialize. But if there is snow on the ground, it can ball in the shoe or the hoof and make for difficult or even dangerous footing.
In this case, you might try applying hoof oil or petroleum jelly to keep the snow from sticking. If ground conditions or your horse’s activity level make the oil ineffective, consider applying snow pads. These are an easy fix that stops the accumulation of snow and ice in the first place and prevents those troublesome balls. Snow pads can also counter moisture intrusion into the hoof, which can be a bigger concern.
Snow or ice on the ground can turn into moisture in the hoof—either in the paddock or if carried into the stable. This moisture can find its way into any cracks or fissures in the outer hoof, creating a potential breeding ground for thrush or other infections. Persistently muddy ground can pose the same hazard. So long as hooves are thoroughly picked after every turnout, dry stable conditions should allow the hooves to dry. That is the surest way to avoid any problems.
If any cracks in the hoof have been noted, pay special attention to those and protect them if necessary. Movement between freezing temperatures outside and the warmth of the stable can expand and contract these potential pathways for infection.
A winter ride can be therapeutic for you and your horse. But monitor conditions carefully. Deeply frozen ground can be as hard as concrete, and long or hard rides can subject your horse to possible injury. If you hear anything like the sharp sound hooves make on concrete while you are riding on frozen ground, it’s too hard for a ride. You want to hear the same thump you would hear on firm ground any other time of year.
Also, if there is the chance that you will be encountering icy patches, you may want to consider having your farrier install studded shoes for a period.
For a variety of reasons, hooves grow more slowly in winter. This can allow for less frequent visits by your farrier. But it also means that any hoof health issues will heal more slowly. On the plus side, the colder conditions are also harder on topical bacterial conditions like thrush. If you are in the process of treating such a condition, now is the time for extra diligence to knock it out completely.
Horses are surprisingly hardy and are generally comfortable in winter conditions, right down to their hooves. With the little bit of extra attention the season requires, your horse can be one of the greater pleasures of winter.