Do you pull your horses’ shoes for the winter?


When I was a kid it seemed like pulling horses’ shoes for the winter was pretty routine. Way back then winter was considered more of a rest period than it is today.

Freedom's bare hoof.

Freedom’s gone barefoot for the winter. The purple color is Durasole, which helps toughen up the sole.

Letting your horse spend some time barefoot (provided he can get through the transition period) usually improves overall health of the feet. It certainly did for Freedom. His hooves got healthier. His hoof walls got thicker and stopped cracking, his soles depth improved and his heels expanded. This is due to increased circulation and the ability of the hoof to expand with movement. Of course, the transition period has to be managed. It’s best to pull shoes when the ground is still soft as tender soles can get bruised if the ground is frozen or hard. Treating the sole with Durasole is a good way to help toughen up the sole and in some cases, you might need to use hoof boots at the beginning.

Until Freedom lost a shoe out hunting two years ago — causing me to take him barefoot — I’d gotten out of the habit of pulling shoes for the winter. Then I got used to having him barefoot. It was especially great in the winter — no expensive winter shoes, no snow balling up in the horse’s feet and no studs — while studs are helpful in some situations, they can also cause torque. Bare hooves have decent traction in winter conditions (and I don’t want to ride if it’s too slippery).

This fall I had to put shoes on Freedom for the first time in two years. While it was a good decision — he needed the support and lift to recover from a series of abscesses — it was at a bad time of year. By the time he was filling better and his hoof had grown out, the ground was rock hard. Not a good time for exposing tender feet.

Two days before my farrier came to do his feet, we had a winter storm. We got enough snow to cushion the ground and the cold weather in the forecast should keep that snow around for a week or more.

So I decided to pull his shoes and see how it goes. So far, he’s been comfortable and happy. I’ve ridden him in the snow and he’s showing no signs of soreness. He gets enough traction that he’s handling the slippery spots well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can keep him barefoot until spring and then might consider glue on shoes for the hunt season.

What about you? Do you pull your horse’s shoes in the winter to give his feet a break?

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3 responses

  1. Hi, my horse has been barefoot for ten years now he is trimmed every six weeks or so which makes the cost about the same if he were shod..barefoot does not work for every horse but most of my fellow riders are unshod..I live in the mountains where we ride and today we have two feet of snow on the ground…check out natural horsemanship sites and the barefoot theory …if a horse has good feet or rehabilitated good feet it can really work..If your farrier is open minded they can easily adapt to a natural trim method…Happy Riding…Melinda Field author of TRUE a novel about true friendship and the love of horses..truemelindafield.blogspot.com

  2. I was really pleased with using the glue on boot from easy care on my and a friend/customer’s horse all 2011 summer. I used adhere on the hoof wall and goober glue in the sole. I did this on my horse as an experiment and on my friend’s horse out of necessity/desperation. Both horses got a break of a couple days to dry out between glue ons about every other time we did them. Both had beautiful feet in the autumn and had no problem going barefoot/booted for riding in the winter–including my friend’s sensitive drama queen Arabian with previously nightmare hooves.

    While we didn’t use them then, I’ve had good results with the quick studs used on glove boots since then so if you want the option of studding, glue on boots are still an option.

    There was a learning curve and a couple boots were lost early in the summer but we quickly became pros and after two gluing cycles we had worked out most of the kinks. We both had backup glove boots so there were no lost riding days due to lost glue ons. The main difficulty ended up being that my friend’s horse, who had been barefoot for the two previous years, suddenly started to change hoof shape (long toe finally began to shorten from the top and concavity improved significantly) and we had to return all her pre-ordered shells and power straps and order smaller sizes.

    A year and a half later my friend’s Arabian is still only barefoot and booted but he has maintained the short toe and most of the concavity he developed that summer.

    My mare, a fjord, had awesome feet before and after our little experiment–no real impact either way on her.

    Two horses, a Fjord and an Arabian, is not a huge sample size, but I just wanted to pass along my personal antecdote in case it can help inspire you to find a solution that will work for you and your horse. Easy care have a blog with lots of stuff about glue ons and their customer service is top notch so you can call and talk with a human if you want.

    Love the blog, keep up the great work . :)

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