Winter hoofwear for horses – Why do they need winter shoes?

Do horses need winter shoes? Like most equestrian questions, the answer is, “it depends.”

Certainly horse owners need to come up with a strategy that allows for adequate traction, that prevents snow from balling up in the hoof, and which provides enough protection for the amount and type of riding you want to do.

What doesn’t work is regular horse shoes. Without studs or borium, metal horse shoes quickly turn into ice skates on slick footing. Horses without pads will also suffer when snow balls up in the bottoms of their feet, leaving them perched on snow balls. When a horse ends up standing on snowballs he suffers decreased stability in his fetlock joints and has a hard time maintaining his balance.

Horses that are barefoot do pretty well in winter. The bare hoof has a good amount of traction and its shape sheds snow, preventing snow balls. This is the first year that I’ve had Freedom barefoot and so far he’s done fine in both the snow and the ice. His feet are holding up well with no chipping or breakage. Partially that’s because we pulled his shoes when the ground was still soft. Another horse at the barn had her shoes pulled right before the ground froze and while her feet aren’t bad, she’s been a lot more tender and her hooves are chipping up to the nail holes.

Up until now, I always used borium or small pin studs with either snow pads or rim pads.

Horse shoe with borium and rim pads.Borium (tungsten carbide in brass) is applied in dots or smears to a horse shoe to provide traction. Some people don’t like borium because in some situations it provides too much traction and can cause joint, tendon and ligament injuries. Provided you are riding mostly on snow and other soft surfaces, that shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are going to be riding on pavement or similarly hrd surfaces the borium stops the hoof instantly upon landing potentially causing torque and sending the stress from the impact up the leg.

Pin studs are driven into the shoe. You can get them in varying lengths but I always went with the smallest possible that would allow traction, mostly because I didn’t want to stop the foot that fast.

Horse shoe with bubble pads.In conjunction with the traction devices, most farriers recommend using special pads. “Popper” or “bubble” style pads coverĀ  the entire bottom of the hoof and have a ball shape in the center. The pad flexes every time the hoof strikes the snow surface, popping the snow out. The problem with these pads is that snow can accumulate under the pad and freeze creating a hard lump that can cause sole pressure.

Rim pads are another option. They leave the center of the hoof open making it easy to keep clean. Each time the horse’s hoof strikes the ground the pad flexes and dislodges the snow.

2 thoughts on “Winter hoofwear for horses – Why do they need winter shoes?

  1. This is some great info. I have never had to deal with special winter shoeing, but it makes perfect sense. I would have no idea where to begin with choosing winter footwear!

  2. A great winter shoeing package is combining snow pads with borium shoes. Being a professional farrier, I use this combination on many riding horses that are ridden in the snow/ice as well as on rocky terrain. The traction allows the horse to be ridden with more confidence with a “sure footed” gait. I have had great results with borium shoes purchased from The Blacksmith Shop in VA ( These borium shoes are guaranteed and will last muck longer than flat shoes. Good Luck!

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