With the change in the weather and a return to moisture and wet conditions I’ve been seeing lots of changes in the horses feet that I’m trimming. Some of these changes are fantastic for me as your horses trimmer. I can more easily get to flaking off retained or callused sole. And lowering those hoof walls that grew just a bit too long since the previous trim is finally a snap! Frogs are peeling and it’s a great time to clean them up and address underlying infections that might be plaguing your horses feet. We should look to a slow down in growth over the winter months, but keep aware that hoof care is important all year long.
In the winter months, as I’ve said, we will see a slow down of hoof growth but not to changes happening in their feet. I find this time of year a good time to help feet be more healthy and naturally shaped through keeping up on our trimming schedule. With the coming of fall and after we can feel the moisture level rising in the environment, the feet start to absorb that moisture and become more pliable. This sudden change is common to our area since we go from extremely dry for months on end to a sudden return to moisture conditions. During the dryness, the hoof mechanism can become constricted, but a return to moisture allows the foot to expand, contract, and change in positive ways, if we continue to keep up with our hoof care maintenance.
Some things you’ll see happening with your horses feet during this transition from dry to moist:
Changes in the Frog: Your horses frogs can literally “pop out” and peel away revealing new frog material ready to grow during the winter months. Many people find this alarming, but this is the natural process of growth, shedding and regrowth. As a trimmer, I normally do not trim much off of the frog during the dry months (except for infected frogs of course). But when they are naturally shedding off, I will clean up the area and make sure that the new frog growth is exposed and that there are no hidden holes or crevices where fungus and bacteria can form. I might treat the frog with some antifungal/bacterial tincture or cream and the frog will be ready for its natural regrowth.
Shedding Sole: Over the dry months, horses in our area can accumulate quite a bit of callus on their sole. I see this on many of the horses I trim, and especially on those horses who don’t quite get enough riding or turnout time over varied terrain (especially rocks and gravel). The buildup of callus as natural protection for the sole when the hoof is dry and the horse is not moving the miles nature intended him to move. Therefore, I leave callus during the summer unless there is some pathological buildup of retained sole, which is another problem altogether. So as Fall approaches and we get our first wet storm, that callus starts to loosen. What I will do to help it wear off is to exfoliate material that is “asking” to come off. Sometimes you’ll see the sole is very flaky and my knife just shaves off crumbly pieces of callus. Other times, it will take a few trims to completely exfoliate all of the material and I’ll simply help out by opening up crevices by pealing away that material which comes off easily with my knife. In any case, all this will come off as the fall progresses and winter arrives and the soles of your horses feet should look beautiful, thick, shiney and healthy. I love it during a good snow storm. I pop off the snow ball that might accumulate on the sole and what I see is a beautiful shiny healthy foot – love this time of year!
Hoof wall growth: Even though the hoof wall will grow more slowly, I have seen healthier growth, perhaps even some thickening of the hoof wall and underlying structures develop over the fall and winter months with ongoing winter hoof care. I’ll leave a small ridge of hoof wall well rounded along the circumference of the hoof (perhaps about 1/16″ less or more depending on the horses living environment) to ensure that the weight bearing is equally distributed and the sole can make passive contact. With this we might see thicker sole develop for the coming seasons and a healthier hoof all around.
I’ve seen many a problem foot grow more healthy over the winter months if trims are kept up on a regular basis, fungus and bacteria kept away (remember frequent cleaning) – and don’t forget, a properly balanced nutrition program, low NSC tested grass hay, and continued winter exercise is crucial to your horses overall health and the health of their feet.