Hoof growth is influenced by several factors, according to Eliza McGraw: the horse's health, environment, amount of exercise, and quality of hoof care. Horses exercise less in the winter, which means less circulation in the hooves and therefore less growth. They use the nutrients they get from their food to keep warm, another factor that slows the growth rate of the hooves.
There are several things to consider when your horse's hooves grow more slowly. For example, your farrier may have to come a couple weeks later than normal, such as every eight to twelve weeks, then come more frequently in the spring when hooves grow at a rapid pace. Also consider that cracks will take longer to grow out. This means it may take longer for a horse with a cracked or damaged hoof to completely heal, regardless of how you treat it.
|Wearing special snow pads like this one prevents buildup of snow and ice.|
In addition to a slower hoof growth rate, winter also brings several ailments: thrush, abscesses, and hoof bruises.
Thrush is caused by the bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum, which thrives in moist environments, particularly mud. It is easily recognizable by its characteristical black ooze.
Hoof bruises can result from riding your horse over hard, frozen ground, causing soreness and lameness, and requires the assistance of both your farrier and vet. They will test the hoof to find the sore area and then will either pare down the affected hoof or recommend special shoes or pads.
Abscesses are pus-filled pockets inside the hoof, caused by an infection or foriegn object. Usually you should let them drain on their own and use something to reduce infection.
Snow may also become packed in your horse's hooves, especially in freezing temperatures, melting slightly when touching the hoof, the re-freezing. Preventing it using special snow pads is best.
Making sure you are aware of the specific needs of your horse's hooves and acting quickly can keep you horse safer and healthier this winter.