Question about riding barefoot horses in snow

For those of you who ride barefoot horses in the snow:

What do you do about the ice balls that build up in the horse’s hooves? Is there any way to prevent that? Or do you dismount frequently to clean the hooves? Or just ride on ice stilts? Do you put boots on or take them off?

My experience has been horses with shoes ball up in wet snow but barefoot horses do not. I could never ride in snow as a kid because we shod our horses but have been enjoying it as an adult with barefoot horses. Of course we only get about a week of snow a year here.

Some folks have been riding in hoof boots. I preferred bare feet for grip but the hoof boots appeared to be working fine.


My horses’ feet ball up in wet snow, and they’re both barefoot. Sometimes the ice is packed so tight I almost need a hammer and chisel to get it out. And those ice balls can be a couple of inches high. They will eventually fall out on their own, but another ball builds up as soon as the last one falls off.

I think it would be fun to ride in snow once in a while, but I don’t because it seems like those ice balls could interfere with traction, especially on hills. It also seems to me that those big ice balls could be hard on the feet, especially with the weight of a rider. I agree that bare feet would seem to be better for grip. I know you can put studs on boots, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of ice buildup. And we don’t get enough snow where I live to make it worth the price.

Oh I would not ride in the snow if my horse got balls in her feet! She gets snow in her frog crevices but no balling, I was keeping a really close eye on her. It’s very dangerous once they ball up. I’m surprised to hear of a barefoot horse balling up but I suppose it could depend on sole concavity and wall height, individual hoof shape.

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Spray their feet with PAM.


I rode all winter in Scoot Boots in the snow last year and haven’t had any issues. I just brought them home to put the ice studs on them tonight as we just had our first real winter snow here and already had some ice on the ground.

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Good to know, since my guy wears Scoot Boots!


I’ve never had a problem with barefoot horses getting snowballs in there feet. But ice under the snow can be a problem. I do tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. If I ask for a trot and they don’t, I assume the footing is icy and don’t insist. Obviously, l only ride my truly broke horses in the snow.

I have not had issues with barefoot horses getting snowballs, but I agree you wouldn’t want to ride if yours are! Hopefully the Scoot Boots will work, but I would be very careful if you are trying them without some kind of studs.

Snow also can be so many different things. Be aware of what’s underneath. Also how the snow is behaving and packing that day. Fresh fluffy snow can turn into ice when it warms up.

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My mare is packing too and she’s barefoot. She has beautiful feet with concavity and we do leave a bit more foot in the winter just so she doesn’t get sore when the ground gets lumpy and hard.

The packing is BAD too lately. Very annoying. I chip it out and she goes right back out and packs it back in.

I think for my horses it depends on if we have a wet snow or a dry snow. It is the wet snow that balls up in most everyone feet and I wouldn’t ride if that happens. It is hard enough to look at when they are just standing there.

Thankfully our snow is usually gone quickly.


Ski wax works. Possibly simple hoof oil would do the trick for a short ride as well.

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Never found any product applied to hooves that actually works more than 15 minutes. Spray shortening, lard, wax, all have a VERY short no-stick ability.

Something I have noticed is that barefoot horses moving briskly, throw out packed snow in hooves. We used to pull each other on skis at a canter, not the least bit of slipping. Unridden horses being snorty in the paddock, trotting with heads and tails up, also throw snowballs out. They have snappy leg, ankle action to fling the snowballs. It is the slower movers, walking, being tentative, which let the snow build up in hooves, so then horses moves even more tentatively.

Snowballs melt off if stalled overnight or you can chunk them out. I have a snowball hammer, like teamsters used on horses in the old days. It has a single long claw behind to use hitting snowballs to break them apart. Looks scary, but I pull my hits, snow ball is pretty hard, so I don’t actually hit any part of hoof with hammer. But for me, this is the BEST tool to clean out icy hooves. I have tried lots of other methods, tools over the years, but they were a lot more work with poor results.

You can Google Snowball Hammer to get a picture, see how the design can work for you. A blacksmith made mine, but there are antiques out there too. Not sure anyone makes them these days.

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This is my experience also, the horse that stands around the bale all day gets snow balls but when I chip them out and ride or the horses get snorting around the snow packs come out.
Horses used to be ridden barefoot in the winter daily.

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