Full snowball pads set with shoes with cleats or composite traction will help ensure that your draft is ready for winter weather.

Photos courtesy of Vicki Schmidt.

A variety of choices exist for winter shoes for your draft. Knowing which options might work best requires careful consideration of your preferred activities. Light firewood logging or an occasional trail ride will probably require less aggressive winter shoeing than if you’re planning sleigh rides with a team and a sled that holds a dozen people. To find what will work best for your drafts talk with your farrier and get a basic knowledge of the available options.

While still used by some today, the term “sharp shod” indicates the draft had shoes that were fitted with calks at the heels and toes in order to provide adequate traction on frozen ground, packed snow and ice. If you choose to shoe your draft for winter traction be aware of the all-around farm safety needs of these shoes. Winter traction shoes can cause cuts and open wounds if a horse or person is kicked or if a horse stumbles and steps on himself or a teammate while sharp shod.

Winter shoeing needs careful consideration, as it can lead to problems for your draft. Traction shoes prevent the gentle amount of slide and give that a hoof receives as it lands during a horse’s natural movement. With this natural springiness taken away, the pressure is transferred to his bones, tendons and ligaments. If too much traction is applied to a shoe, the increased pressure and torque can cause chronic and sometimes immediate damage to the bones and joints of the hoof and leg.

When working on unfamiliar terrain, always be careful of hazards, such as glass, that may be frozen in the snow or ice.

If you decide to use winter shoes on your draft, ask your farrier what he recommends, and what types of shoes and services he can provide. Not all farriers are set up for all types of draft shoe modification, especially those for traction on snow and ice.

The following information should increase your knowledge of winter shoes and should help as you consider the available options.

  • Frost nails are special horseshoe nails with a head designed to provide seasonal-type traction on hard or slippery surfaces. These nails are often manufactured with a shank that’s larger than a standard horseshoe nail. The heavy-duty shank allows the nail to hold up under the added stress of the traction, but also creates a larger nail hole in your horse’s hoof wall. If your draft has thin, weak or brittle hoof quality, frost nails many not be the best choice.
  • Borium is made up of grains or chips of tungsten carbide in a steel or brass matrix. Other types of composite type grip are Drill Tech and Carbraze. For this approach a horseshoe is heated in the forge and the composite is applied to the ground surface with an acetylene torch or an arc welder. While all composites work well when applied properly and with respect to the horse’s hoof, leg and type of work, Borium is reported to provide the ultimate traction on hard, slick surfaces, such as pavement or ice.
  • Cleats are any type of projection that may be forged, welded or brazed onto the ground side of a horseshoe. Calks and studs are two examples. Depending on the type of shoe, cleats may also be screwed or inserted into a hole in the horseshoe. Shoes with heal calks can only provide braking traction as the hoof lands; they cannot provide grip due to the breakover of the hoof.
  • Snowball pads – full snowball or rim pad style – prevent snow from building up on the sole of the hoof. Rim pads allow the hoof to be cleaned and are less expensive than a full snowball pad. If you’re logging in the woods, especially on terrain or trails you’re not familiar with, consider the use of a full snowball pad. Not only are they a good complement to a set of working winter shoes, but they will also protect the sole from puncture wounds caused by sharp items frozen in the ground.