It is currently winter in New Zealand. For most part of the country that means wet and muddy fields where we keep our stock, including horses. But the issue is also present if the horses are kept on other soft substrates (loose sand, bark, saw dust, deep loose gravel, etc) at other times of the year, or worse, all year round.
One thing to remind ourselves is how the equine hoof functions. For the hoof to function, apart from the correct shape that allows this, it needs a certain firmness of the ground to provide enough resistance to expand the hoof capsule and create hoof mechanism. This hoof mechanism will allow for optimal blood flow to the soft tissue inside that is responsible to grow the right amount of horn. The soft ground now reduces this action and as a result reduces horn production and horn quality. We often hear the phrase the hoof grows less in winter.
If the horn quality of the external horn deteriorates, that is kind of obvious – brittle horn, weak frogs and pitted sole. Usually “the wet” gets the blame. However, if the internal horn, the laminar line horn that bonds the pedal bone to the hoof wall, is compromised, then this is not immediately visible. We will see the signs of that weakened bond when the ground hardens out again in spring and the foot gets stimulated more, then, out of a sudden, there is a sore horse. Often the diagnosis then is laminitis.
This does not need to be the case, if the horse has a functioning hoof and is offered firm enough ground so that it needs to spend some time on it to walk about. In reality terms that means the horse shelter and the adjacent areas should be prepared so it does not become a bog. A driveway can work well, too. We then can offer hay in those areas and make the horse spend some time on it. Providing a firm-enough ground now, will safe us (well, and the horse) trouble later on.