Riding on snow: is it safe?

  • We may have hoped that spring was just around the corner, but for many of us in the UK, we have recently found ourselves having to negotiate snowy weather, so H&H investigates whether it’s safe to ride on snow

    It may look deep and crisp and even — but is that fresh snow really safe to ride on? It’s a dilemma facing many owners whose horses become stable-bound when temperatures plummet.

    At Jeremy Scott’s yard, high up on the outskirts of Exmoor National Park, the pointers and racehorses keep exercising through the white stuff — in certain conditions.

    “It depends on the type of snow,” says trainer Camilla Scott. “Some snow balls up in the horses’ feet, but the soft, powdery stuff we ride on falls back out again, so we don’t have to put anything in their hooves. We ride across fields where we know the ground is good underneath, and we only walk and trot.

    “A few horses don’t like the way the snow flicks up and hits their bellies, but most love being out in it,” adds Camilla, who advises exercising extra caution in thawing or icy conditions or where snow has drifted.

    Pads, studs and grease

    Pads to prevent snow balling are more common in colder countries. Options include rubber bubble pads that “pop” the snow from the hoof, and tube-type rim pads that dislodge snowballs while allowing the frog and sole to breathe.

    Riding on hard frost or ice is generally to be avoided, although horses in some snowbound parts of the world continue working with special studs or shoes that provide better traction.

    Farrier Haydn Price points out that snow rarely lasts long enough in the UK to warrant the use of specialist products or methods.

    “The old-fashioned method of greasing works well enough,” he says. “Coat the soles and the inside of the shoes with really thick, high-density industrial grease. It won’t hurt the hooves, in the short term, and it will stop snow balling up inside them.”

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    The barefoot question

    Nic Barker, who runs a rehabilitation yard for horses with long-term lameness and hoof problems, reckons that horses are better in snow than a 4×4 vehicle.

    “I love it when it snows,” says Nic. “We often get snowed in as we live up on Exmoor, but with a yardful of barefoot horses, that doesn’t mean time off. In fact, it means you have no excuse for avoiding exercising them, as barefoot horses revel in snowy conditions.

    “Whereas snow can cause problems for shod horses — balling and freezing onto the metal in the shoe and creating dangerous snow ‘stilts’ — with a barefoot horse the snow simply falls out. They can carry on as normal, completely sure-footed.”

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