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Sore Feet & Hard Ground

Does your horse have a great dislike for walking on hard ground? You'd likely notice this a lot during the winter months if you live in a cold climate where freezing makes the ground hard and causes your horse to respond to a winter condition. Or maybe you notice it whenever you ride him on a paved road, concrete, or some other highly compacted surface for a short ways. So let's discuss this in several steps.

Horseshoes

Hard surfaces are not any better for horses than they are for humans. And if you're running your horse or yourself on such surfaces, you're risking shin splints for the runner whether equine or human. At least for your horse's sake, don't do it (you can do whatever you want to yourself).

Many horses used for all disciplines are often shod. But if you live in a colder climate that usually receives snow in the winter months, it's common to remove the shoes for those months because otherwise, snow will melt from the heat of the hooves and then refreeze hard if it comes into contact with the steel shoe. This results in a growing ball of ice over the frog and hoof bottom against the inside of the horseshoe. Standing and walking with this ball of ice on the bottom of his hooves is not only painful for the horse, it also can change the way he places weight on his feet, can force his feet and legs to slip or roll to the side on the ball de-stabilizing his gait, and even cause him skeletal stresses or direct injury.

If your horse dislikes walking on hard ground after removing his shoes, this is normal because his frog and other parts of his foot normally elevated by the horseshoe are now striking the ground with each step. This sensitivity is even more common when you ride a horse recently made barefoot. Some horses toughen up enough to allow riding without shoes while others do not. After waiting a couple of months after shoe removal and providing regular turnout, you can usually tell whether enough toughening has occurred for your horse to feel comfortable or whether his feet are still tender. If the latter, you have three options:

  1. Don't ride during the colder months while he's unshod;
  2. Put winter shoes on your horse that incorporate a rubber pad to keep the snow away from the hoof/steel boundary so it can't melt and refreeze; or
  3. Use boots on your horse.

The Horse Girl wrote an informative article about hooves and the benefits of giving your horse time off from their shoes. It's entitled: How Hooves Work. In that vein, you may want to consider using boots on your horse's feet for riding in the winter. Boots give his hooves a break while still letting you ride without hurting his sensitive feet. Most of the time, you only need one pair because it's the front feet that carry most of the weight.

There is a move afoot (pun?) in the horse world to convert horses back to barefoot year round. After all, horses aren't born with shoes on their feet and were ridden through the ages without shoes initially. The general feeling is that it's healthier and at least worth doing with those horses that don't have tender feet. So it's something to consider depending on the tenderness of your horse's feet.

If your horse always dislikes hard ground and nothing has changed in his shoeing, you need to contact your vet or farrier to have a professional examine his feet to assure there is no injury or other problem. This is not an issue to ignore because, as we're all likely familiar with the cliché: "No hoof, no horse!"

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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