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Tender hooves?

From: Lisa

Hi Jessica,

This is my first winter with my 13 year old Arabian. I am learning allot and probably making some mistakes.  The weather is in the teens and I have been blanketing her, my neighbor says I should have left her alone.  Should I be covering her when the temperature is that low or should I wait until it is colder?  Shamrock does have a nice winter coat but I worry about her getting a chill.  I have been giving her the extra hay and Alltel bit more feed.  She is very healthy and strong.   One other concern, I have noticed her hoofs are very sensitive.  I will pick the ice and snow out of her hoofs every other day, she is kicking her hoofs away from me.   Her back hoofs have always been an issue but now her front ones she lets me know she doesn't like it.  Does the cold affect sensitivity?  I searched through all my horse illustrated and equine magazines and surfed the internet and cannot find the answer.  I would appreciate your help.  Hate the Winter,  Lisa from Connecticut

Hi Lisa! If you see your horse shivering, or if it's getting below zero at night, or if the wind chill is taking the effective temperature to even lower levels, then you might want to blanket her. If she has a good winter coat, and she is keeping her weight and NOT shivering, then she probably doesn't need a blanket. Use your good sense, and talk to your vet if you're in any doubt about what to do. Extra hay will help keep her warm. Extra grain is much less helpful than extra hay if you're trying to create warmth.

It's possible that your mare could have bruised her feet on frozen ground, but I'm going to suggest another possible reason for her behaviour. If your farrier and vet haven't found anything wrong with your mare's hooves, I would guess that she isn't actually objecting to you handling her hooves. At thirteen, though, she's likely to have at least a few minor arthritic changes, and those could make her uncomfortable when you pick out her feet, not because her FEET hurt but because she has some stiffness and discomfort elsewhere in her legs. It's also possible that her muscles are stiff and cold, especially if she has been standing in a stall or in one spot in her paddock or field. If she is stiff and cold, she may find it difficult to stand while her hooves are being handled. And if her feet are packed with snowballs, and she has to balance on them until her feet are cleaned, she may be quite sore from the effort of keeping her balance!

I find that most horses benefit from being walked around BEFORE their feet are handled, so that they can warm up their muscles a little. This isn't always possible in winter -- if you find your horse teetering on snow- or ice-balls, you want to get the feet cleaned out before asking that horse to walk even one step. ;-) So if you find that you need to handle her feet and legs before she has a chance to warm up, take things slowly and be very patient. Don't lift her feet high or take them too far away from her body; stay close to her and keep her feet near the ground while you work on them. If she gets uncomfortable and needs to put her foot back on the ground before you've finished with it, let her put it down and relax for a moment before you pick up that foot again. She'll be more relaxed if she knows that you won't ask her to do things that make her uncomfortable.

Here's a useful tip: during the rest of the year, try giving her some light exercise just before the farrier works on her hooves. She'll be much more flexible and relaxed, and much calmer about the process.


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