Some people decide to remove their horse’s shoes for the winter in order to give their feet a “break.” Unfortunately, if the shoes are not pulled early enough in the season and properly maintained, this can be a very literal thing, with hooves crumbling and breaking up to the old nail holes.

Farrier, Hans Wiza, said that if you are going to pull your horse’s shoes, you shouldn’t wait until November or December when the ground is frozen and jagged and more likely to damage his hooves. “If you want your horse to go barefoot for the winter, transition him early on,” said Wiza. “Have your farrier remove the shoes shortly after Thanksgiving. This gives the hooves six weeks to build up some growth” before the farrier returns and can clean up hoof for the winter.

Wiza also recommends altering your trim schedule in the winter, asking your farrier to come out every four weeks instead of six, to file the hooves and round off the edges. “Don’t wait for the hoof to crumble,” he said, “then the farrier is on damage control instead of maintenance.”

Maintaining a short, rounded shape will increase the durability of the hoof, making it less likely to crack, peel and flare. In addition, if you maintain the shape of the hoof throughout the winter, it is possible that your farrier will be able to use the same shoes he pulled in the fall again in the spring. “There’s nothing worse than losing a brand new shoe in the mud,” Wiza pointed out.

If you opt to leave your horse’s shoes on for the winter, Wiza said you must ensure that he has adequate traction to keep him safe and confident on his feet over the various surfaces he will encounter. ‘”The problem is not so much how the horse will make out in the field,’ he said, ‘it’s when the horse comes in.” Walkways can be icy, and barn floors slick. Along with the build-up of ice and snow in his hooves, this can be a dangerous combination.

Installing studs on your horse’s shoes is one way to provide traction. Another way is to have your farrier use larger nail heads, which protrude slightly, to offer further grip on slick surfaces. Wiza added that he likes to put new shoes on horses in about November because “new shoes tend to have crisp metal edges with traction potential. You don’t want to send your horse into winter with older, worn shoes.”

To combat the build-up of ice and now, there are a variety of pads on the market. Some people believe coating the hoof with cooking spray or petroleum jelly will prevent snow from packing in the hoof. This is not entirely true, said Wiza, as the cavities in the hoof invite build-up.

Wiza said, “The best advice I can give is to thoroughly discuss all the available options with your farrier and be flexible. Sometimes, we need to be aware that it is in the horse’s best interests to swap out one style of pad or shoe for another, depending on whether the long-term application is contributing to decay or hoof breakdown.”

If you horse is going into spring barefoot, Wiza cautioned, “the temptation to ride on the roads, especially gravel roads, in the spring is quite inviting. Regular snow plowing sweeps the stones away and leaves a nice smooth surface to ride on. Especially on warm sunny days, the roads become a little soft and the horses go forward quite freely. The problem arises when they go too many miles and wear the toes back too strongly and the toe/heel proportion becomes skewed. The result is often a lame horse. Shoes are indicated well before this gets a chance to happen.”