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.
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?