Fall: A New Season, A New Set of Challenges

*Note: This journal post was originally published on October 16, 2009*

Fall foliage and pumpkinsSummer is always a very busy time in the farrier industry. It seems like there is always at least one more horse that needs done every day in the summer.

This particular summer was so busy that I didn’t even see it end! I simply woke up one morning and needed a sweater. Now that we are getting more cool days and a bit more moisture, a few things about preparing to winterize horses comes to mind.

Hoof Growth
Typically horses’ feet grow slower in cooler weather. Most people realize this, but I don’t know if everyone is aware of why they grow slower.

Equine metabolism works in a hierarchy. When a horse’s body doesn’t need much energy, it can devote the excess energy to less “important” parts of the body. Namely the feet. So in the summer when the horse’s body doesn’t need to work as hard to stay warm, the hooves will typically grow faster. This is why we tend towards a shorter shoeing interval in the summer.

My schedule right now is in transition while I move some of the horses in my practice to a longer interval. The exceptions to this are the horses whose work load increases in the cooler months (foxhunters, winter circuit show horses, etc.). The feet on these horses will grow faster because of the increase in work; shod horses will grow quickly because they can’t tell that their feet aren’t wearing off. Their feet are responding to the added stimulus by growing at a faster rate.

Change of Season, Change of Routine
Some of my clients are preparing to pull shoes for the winter. This can give their horse’s feet a chance to rest and reset after a fashion. I feel like a broken record sometimes talking about the benefits of bare feet on horses, but this is a great time of year to let a horse try out being barefooted after a period of being shod.

The rain is falling, making the ground softer and less abrasive. The moisture level in the hooves also increases, making them less brittle and less likely to chip.

On the flip side of that coin, this is also the time of year that we have to look out for moisture sensitive problems. Cracking, white-line disease and thrush (or a generally necrotic frog) are problems to be on the lookout for if your horse spends a lot of time in the mud. Also keep an eye on the back of their pasterns for signs of Scratches (also called mud fever or grease heel).

Beyond that, I recommend drinking warm cider and watching your horses get friskier now that the days and nights have gotten cool!