As the days become shorter and the nights longer, winter is certainly on its way. South African winters are considered fairly mild compared to other parts of the world, but in some of our regions, it can still get very cold at night! As the weather differs vastly throughout our country, with the Cape regions usually getting winter rainfall and Gauteng usually being quite dry during this time, your hoof care regimen can differ slightly depending on where you are. We look at what your winter hoof care regimen should look like and give top tips for managing hooves during winter.
In regions with winter rainfall, like the Cape, you should focus on keeping the hooves clean and dry. Horses who stand in wet, muddy conditions can be susceptible to thrush, softening of the hoof itself and fungal or bacterial infections. The structural integrity of the hoof is compromised when the hoof walls become soft from being wet for long periods of time. In extreme cases, this can result in the hoof wall collapsing and the horse getting flatter feet. Soft feet can make the horse susceptible to bruising and sensitivity when being ridden on harder surfaces. Horses with genetically weak hooves are more prone to problems stemming from wet hooves, as the structures in the hoof aren’t strong enough to withstand the ‘wear and tear’ they’re exposed to while the feet are wet.
The stabled horse is more vulnerable due to standing in bedding that may be wet from urine during the night, as well as constantly being hosed down – after being ridden, baths before shows and cold hosing to protect the tendons and ligaments of the leg. The hoof eventually just becomes, quite simply, saturated. An alternative to this is to sponge your horse down after work (this also saves a lot of water!) and only bath him when you absolutely have to.
Horses are also prone to losing shoes more easily when the hooves are sodden, as they do not have the thickness, firmness or strength to hold the shoe and nails in place. Hoof cracks, chipped areas and horseshoe nails create an environment encouraging fungal and bacterial growth.
Which is worse?
Wet hooves are worse than dry hooves, because they lose their structural integrity. A soft hoof has too much elasticity and too much flexibility. The foot no longer has the strength that it should. Tips to manage wet feet include stabling horses on wood products like pine shavings to dry the hooves out, giving fewer baths, limiting the use of hoof dressings, and keeping the horse in a clean and dry environment. As always, if in doubt, chat to your vet and farrier to make sure you are providing proper management for your horse to ensure good hoof health.
By: Hayley Kruger
The full article appears in the Winter Guide issue of HQ (June 123) > Shop now