I'm a new horse owner. This is my first winter owning a horse of my own and having to make all the decisions about it on my own. Most of the other horse owners at my barn pull the shoes off their horses for the winter. I was wondering why that is. My horse wears front shoes. Should she go barefoot for the winter instead?
Dear New Horse Owner,
This is a great question. Whether or not your horse wears shoes over the winter depends on a number of factors. The first is: does she need shoes to stay sound? If she wears front shoes because she has easily bruised feet or some other condition that requires corrective shoeing, she should keep her shoes on year round.
That being said, I would discuss with your farrier the possibility of putting pads on your horse just for the winter months. One of the main reasons that it is hard for horses to wear shoes in the winter is that snow and ice get stuck in them. Often times in the winter it will look like horses with front shoes are wobbling on top of frozen snowballs that get compacted in their shoes. That, of course, can make it hard for the horse to balance, which can be incredibly unsafe, especially if they are trying to negotiate frozen ground.
If you determine your horse needs to keep her shoes on over the winter, and you don't want to spring for the extra money for pads, there is one trick you can try to help with the snowballs. If you cover the bottom of their feet in vaseline before you turn them out it makes the snowballs a lot less likely to compact into their shoes and make it hard to walk. By the end of the day, they may have some snow packed in, but hopefully, they won't look like they are walking on snowball stilts.
If you don't have an indoor arena to ride in, most likely there will be a lot of time over the winter that the ground is too frozen to ride in some climates. If you live in a place like this and your horse stays somewhere without an indoor arena, it may be cost effective for you to take the shoes off your horse for the winter season. Most horses, unless they have underlying issues, do fine barefoot in the winter if they aren't going to be working. The hoof doesn't grow as quickly in the cold months anyway, so as long as you keep up with your trimming schedule, your horse should be okay.
If your horse wears shoes now and you plan on trying to continue to ride whenever you can in the winter time, I would say don't fix something that isn't broken. In other words, leave the shoes on!
If you plan on giving your horse off over the winter, and she has healthy feet, I see nothing wrong with saving money and pulling the shoes over the winter.
Just be aware, any horse that is used to wearing shoes may appear a little footsore when the shoes are first taken off. This should be monitored carefully to make sure it does not worsen, in which case, you should probably put the shoes back on. There is no shame in trying to pull them over the winter though if you don't plan on riding much.
I'm assuming that most of the riders at your farm don't ride much over the winter, which is quite typical in a lot of places, so that is probably why they pull their horse's shoes. If you don't plan on riding much, I would discuss it with your farrier and decide if pulling the shoes over the winter would be an okay option.
Your farrier knows your horse's feet best and should be able to tell you whether or not your horse will fare well barefoot on frozen winter ground. Some horses are totally fine. Others, with low heels, flat soles that easily bruise, or conditions like Navicular disease, need to keep the shoes on year round.
That is the thought process behind why some horses that normally wear shoes go barefoot over the winter. Now you just need to honestly access your riding plans for the cold weather months and then discuss it with your farrier.
Good luck! I know you will make the best choice.