Ice Balls

Howard Ketover, DVM

Written By: Howard Ketover, DVM

Tis the season to check out those enormous chunks of ice and snow accumulating on the bottom of your horse's hooves. When snow meets the warmer sole of the horse's hoof, the snow will melt, causing it to stick to the shoe and/or the sole of the hoof. This can build up, causing the development of “snow balls” or “ice balls”. The accumulation of snow can make it difficult for the horse to walk and place extra strain on the supporting structures of the limb such as ligaments, tendons and joint capsules.

To prevent, or at least diminish, this issue on a shod horse, utilize snow/ice pads to prevent the buildup. There are two common types of pads: rim and full. Speak with your farrier about which is right for your shod horse.

For the barefoot horse, many techniques have been utilized with varied results. As a preventive, the use of cooking spray, petroleum jelly or Crisco have been utilized with varying success. Avoid products like WD-40 or other “motor” type oils, as they can be harmful to the skin and the environment.

If the “ice balls” have formed, they can be removed by bringing the horse into a warm environment, using a hoof pick, or very carefully using a small hammer to chip/break the ball.