I will chalk this post up to – oh the things you didn’t know you didn’t know. Hoof ice balls? That’s a real thing. One year ago I did not own horses – so I had definitely not been through a winter season with them other than the kids have a lesson twice a week. Now we own three and every day is a lesson.
What is a hoof ice ball? It is when snow and ice get packed under a horse’s hoof. It warms up slightly against the sole, then freezes easily against the cold metal of the shoe. The ice can quickly build up until the horse is walking on a hard, solid mass of frozen material, called “ice balls” or “snowballs.” Wet, icy snow can become compacted into a tight, hard block of ice. The result is an uneven mass of ice that can cause a horse to trip, slide, strain or sprain muscles, tendons and joints. If they stay there for a long period of time they can lead to bruises and hoof cracks.
Removing the ice balls can be difficult and your horse may not appreciate the effort. You can try hoof picks, hammers, butter spray etc… All the while being sure not to injure the frog of the horses foot. So the best efforts are those that are put into preventing the ice balls from forming.
How to prevent hoof ice balls from forming?
Take off your horses shoes for the winter. The cold metal of a horse shoe helps facilitate the rapid freezing of the snow. Ice can still form in an unshod hoof but usually less likely and much smaller and easier to remove.
Purchase anti-snowball pads for you horse. You can ask your farrier which is better – the heavy plastic or rubber insert that covers the horse’s sole and has a convex bubble designed to force snow and slush out or a rim (tube) pad that covers the outer rim of the shoe but leaves the frog exposed. Mud and manure can build up under these pads so it is important to keep them clean.
Apply lubricant to the horses frog/sole area. Such substances can be Vaseline or Crisco. The point is a non-caustic, thick lubricant. Do not use any substance that would not be safe for you too.
Horse boots – these can keep your horse’s feet clean and dry but they should fit your horse well, without rubbing and they are available to be worn with or without shoes.