Mud Sucks! Winter Challenges and Solutions
Winter is coming!! Rather than armies of White Walkers, we tend to get herds of mud monsters! Muddy conditions can not only cause problems for your horse’s hooves, they can make your trimmer's job seem near impossible.
I often hear people worrying about the mud making their horse’s hooves soft or even their horse foot sore but with some dietary interventions that can be managed quite easily. There is a bigger problem that mud creates for the hooves…
Mud can make it really difficult for your hoof care practitioner to do their job well.
It’s dangerous to trim on a slippery surface
It’s not that I don’t understand the problems of only having a field, and no hard standing, I’m from Dorset, I still think of any yard with hard standing as ‘posh’. I’ve come frighteningly close to serious injury a couple of times due to mud. That I’m here to tell the tale is down to the good nature of the horses I was working with at the time, nothing more.
The horse’s weren’t being naughty or difficult, they simply adjusted their weight as is common when holding a hoof up, and my feet slid out from underneath me. Because slippery ground is slippery. Sticky mud is also sticky and not being able to move your feet easily is as bad as them slipping.
It’s not just awkward to trim in mud. It’s straight up dangerous. Frankly, most of us do it, because the horse needs it, and we don’t have another option, we have other clients to get to etc. I’m not saying professionals won’t do it. I’m saying, even though we usually ‘get away with it’ it’s dangerous to do so, and shouldn’t be considered a standard risk of the job.
This seems to happen far more with barefoot horses. Firstly because barefooters prefer a ‘natural’ lifestyle for their horses so they’re less motivated to get stable yards etc. but while I’ve never shod a horse, I strongly suspect it’s impossible to do so in mud.
I used to trim at a yard that had ‘all the facilities’ they presented with a dripping wet, filthy mud covered horse saying ‘our farrier would refuse to do a horse in this state’ with a chuckle. My jaw dropped and my eyebrows disappeared into my hairline as I said ‘I can see why!’ Seriously!! Trimmers are people too you know!! 🙂
Need to clean foot again every time they put it down
Every time your horse puts its foot down it’s covered in mud again. For horses who can and do hold their feet perfectly, it’s not so much trouble, but for horses with any sort of issue that requires them to have their foot back, this can be a nightmare. I’ve trimmed arthritic horses where they can hold a foot up for just long enough for me to clean the mud off. Then they need a break and we start all over again.
Can’t Assess the Hoof or Horse Properly
When the hoof is muddy we literally can’t see it properly. We can clean the mud off, but if there isn’t a reasonable surface we can’t see the hoof while being loaded. We also can’t walk the horse up properly to assess movement.
While we can trim the hoof I find myself really frustrated that I simply can’t do my job to the best of my ability, or I suppose more accurately, my ‘best ability’ is significantly reduced in a number of different ways by the mud.
Can’t hold the hoof Properly
For feathered horses this can be quite a problem. The feather becomes caked in mud and develops clay beads each time they dry out. For heavily feathered horses this can make the leg really difficult to lift and hold up. Add in the amount of new mud you’re dealing and urgh!
Horses without feather isn’t so much trouble, it’s just a case of wiping the mud off and getting on with it.
Damage to tools
The mud blunts our tools. While it’s said that a bad workman blames his tools, I’d also argue that good workman have good tools. When you have good tools you care about whether they’re being wrecked from poor conditions.
Even just a little bit of mud can cause the rasp to get clogged up. Having to stop to clean the rasp out every few swipes - which may or may not require you to put the foot down to do so… urgh!
makes us filthy for our next job
Not only does it blunt our tools, but you end up with mud on everything. That would be great if we were mud wrestlers, and while it feels like we are at times. We’re not. Mud on our chaps, the handles of our tools caking the rasp, it makes every action a chore. It’s difficult to hold them and a pain in the arse to clean them.
While I don’t expect to finish my day looking pristine, it’s unprofessional to arrive at the next job caked in mud looking like a hippo (that’s hippo with an ‘o’ not a ‘y’)
Not to mention how filthy our cars get. I know horse owners are famed for low standards when it comes to clean cars and I’m no exception, but there are limits. I’ve often wondered, when I take my car to the mechanics, if they put a plastic seat cover on to protect my seat from their overalls or their overalls from my seat.
Even I have had occasions where I’ve found myself reluctant to get in my car after trimming and scratching around for bin liners to sit on. There is a limit, and I’ve found it on more than 1 occasion!
Adds considerable time to our day
It takes so much longer to trim when you’re constantly battling the mud. Up to 4 times longer in my experience. (for those of you who don’t know me well, I’m known for understating rather than exaggeration).
All that cleaning off the feet repeatedly, stopping to unclog tools, and frankly exhaustion because it takes so much more time and effort!
I used to trim a number of horses at 1 field. It would take me up to 4 ½ hours to trim 4-5 horses in winter. That’s just trimming time. Well, 15 mins trimming time and 45 mins cleaning time per horse anyway. When they had concrete put in it would take me 2hrs to trim up to 6 horses. It doesn’t matter how many times I said the mud was slowing me down, I never managed to shake the reputation of being slow to trim hooves.
This extra time needed can make a big difference to a trimmers day, and of course mud is only ever an issue when the daylight hours are short.
All of the above is just really frustrating. While it is a common challenge of the job, I don’t think it should be viewed as simply ‘a part of the job’. In simple terms these conditions can be considered as setting your trimmer up to fail. I like to be calm and friendly around horses, to me, getting frustrated while trimming is in itself a fail.
No-one ever wants to do a bad job, but there are times when the deck feels stacked against you and this can be one of those times. It’s really frustrating for professional and horse owner alike.
I saw a discussion on facebook about the challenges of mud. One lady said she thought everyone was making way too much of a fuss. Her farrier never complained he’d even taken his own shirt off to clean her horses feet off before trimming them and he didn’t mind.
My suggestion that she treat her farrier better was not well received! I’m relatively confident that if a practitioner needs to strip down to get a horse clean enough to work with… it’s more likely they’ve given up communicating the issue rather than they’re happy with it. Also - buy them a towel for Christmas! Even better, get yourself a towel for Christmas!
What Can You Do About It?
The obvious answer is to create some sort of surfaced area. This doesn’t have to be wildly expensive to do, so stick with me even/especially if putting in a concrete area is impossible for you (even though my next heading is concrete!)
This area isn’t just going to be used once every 6 weeks for a trim. Obviously it’s going to be a great advantage for you every day 🙂
This is the obvious and often best solution, though can be cost prohibitive. I’m not going to bother writing out the advantages of doing so. I’m fairly confident we’re all familiar with the idea. What I will say though - you’re going to need to sweep the mud off the area. It totally defeats the point if you let the concrete get inch thick in mud.
While it’s not as good as concrete, as long as it’s packed down, it's effective as a working area. Again, we’re all familiar with the concept, so it probably doesn’t need further explanation, other than to say be sure it doesn’t have any dangerous stuff in it like broken glass, or sharp metal etc.
Mud Control Mats
These tiles are getting great reviews, and while I haven’t trimmed on them myself, a number of my colleagues have and say they’re fab. They can be laid straight onto mud and create a good firm surface. They can also be lifted up and moved should you want to do so.
They even have a facebook group for you to find people in your area to share a pallet delivery with to help people who only need a small order for say... a trimming area...
Definitely check them out.
(I’m not affiliated with the company or getting any sort of reward for the recommendation if you were wondering)
While rubber matting does give you a protection from the mud, it can also be hellishly slippy when it gets wet. One of my mud related near misses was slipping on the mud that had just been picked out of the hoof while on rubber matting.
If you can lay them, these are a great option, though it depends how stable your ground is as to how much preparation is needed and/or how much success you’ll have with them. Speak to someone more skilled at such things than I am. I’m more useful on tea and cake duty for jobs like this.
If all else fails…
If the options above are out of your price range then try this. It’s not perfect but it’s an improvement…
Use electric tape to tape off an area large enough for trimming. This will at least stop horses walking over the area and poaching it. Don’t let anyone on this patch so the ground stays as solid as possible.
Go to the tip and pick up an old piece of carpet. You want something that will provide an area big enough to stand your horse on (how big you’ll need will depend how much your horse moves about while being asked to pick up a foot!) and small enough you can fit it in your car.
Leave the carpet rolled up and (hopefully) out of the rain (a tarp will do if no other option) and put it out on the taped off area for handling feet and trimming.
Like I said, this isn’t a perfect option, the carpet will get manky but possibly not more manky than your horse (depends how bad your field is really). If your field is really wet then this probably won’t work.
Really if the mud at your place is that bad, you do need to do something. This isn’t just for trimming, but your own sanity and your horse’s welfare. Being in that much mud is really tough on the joints, it’s arguably worse for the joints than the hooves.
Think about grass management. The healthier and deeper the roots of your grazing is, the less the mud will be an issue. Deep roots not only hold the earth together better, but they will also take up far more water.
Healthy roots also give you far healthier grazing, reducing your need for hay, feed and supplements, and making management of conditions like laminitis and EMS much easier. This is a massive subject and well beyond the scope of this article.
If you’re interested in knowing more, I’m working on something to help horse owners in this area so make sure you’re signed up for blog notifications and you’ll be one of the first to know.
Preparing the hoof
Now we’ve talked about ways to provide a safe area, let's look at preparing the hoof.
At this point I think I need to define what I’m talking about when I mention muddy hooves.
Last year there were a lot of farriers and trimmers posting on social media about the problems with mud. Quite a few of my clients became quite anxious about it, and paranoid they were ‘part of the problem’ as it were.
While the beautifully clean horses they presented me with were a joy to trim, their definition of a ‘disgustingly muddy hoof’ was something like this.
If the mud can be wiped off in under 60 seconds, that’s not what I’m talking about. Of course nearly all horses we’re also presented on clean concrete which is another massive time saver when cleaning up feet. Indeed, what’s the point in cleaning feet when they are presented on mud anyway.
This is what I mean about presenting a muddy horse for trimming
This is what presents extreme effort to get the job done and this is just the worst I’ve taken a picture of. Usually I won’t get my camera out when conditions are too gross, and I’m not a fan of shaming (the owner of this horse was happy for me to use this photo for this purpose)
Obviously 1 leg has been cleaned up and prepared, that’s a schooling arena surface to work on so safe with the hoof not going back into mud.
Cleaning the legs off
While it might seem sensible to hose the legs off, soaking wet legs can be as unpleasant to handle as muddy ones. Towelling the legs off is most professionals preferred choice. Of course if you want to hose them clean and dry them as well, then you can expect to be considered a gold star client!
A bucket of water and brush to wash the hoof without getting the leg soaking wet can work well.
Bring at least one, and preferable 2 towels to clean your horses legs. This makes a massive difference. Most pros will have towels with them but each owner having to provide and clean 2 towels isn’t nearly as big an undertaking as 1 professional having to provide towels for every horse they see.
Of course, the clean up should preferably happen before your practitioner arrives anyway!
For those of us with old bones and bad backs… A long handled broom can be surprising effective at cleaning the mud from the outside of the hooves, and has the added benefit you can do it while sweeping the yard area. Lets not work harder than we have to.
(obviously as long as your horse doesn’t object, and doesn’t have feather)
If you have a hairy horse, some old socks with the foot cut off are fab for pulling up the leg and keeping the feather out of the way. This is appreciated at any time of year, but especially so in winter. That is how I did the prepared leg in this photo
If socks aren’t wide enough then tubular support bandage also works really well. Or I suppose you could use leg warmers for a true 80’s look!
A dripping wet, muddy rug will ensure you end up with a dripping wet, muddy (and likely grumpy) hoof care practitioner too. Of course the rug would need to be removed to assess body and movement anyway but if there isn’t anywhere suitable to walk to do a gait analysis, often this step will be missed, particularly if it’s raining.
A dry or reasonably clean rug isn’t always a problem though even they can get in the way of seeing the foot properly depending on how light it is, and how short the horse’s legs are.
Pick the feet out
Often picking the feet out can be forgotten with all the effort of washing the legs off. In winter, not only will you need to pick the feet out you’ll also need to sweep up the mud that comes out of them. Even on concrete the feet will fill back up with mud if the horse stands on it meaning they have to be picked out again, and of course that mud can be slippery.
Muddy conditions are often all or nothing
If you’re still reading *high five!* I’ve covered a lot here. It sounds like one big long moan. If you have a yard with concrete and covered area for horse care you’re probably thinking this is all a massive over reaction and mud really isn’t that big of a deal. For your situation you’re probably right.
For those of us with field kept horses where you don’t have hard standing, or shelter, or even running water, then all of these things will sound familiar, and you may be feeling deeply picked on by now. That wasn’t my intention, and I’ve been in your position as an owner as well as struggled with it as a professional.
It stands to reason that field kept horses with no facilities will be muddy, and wet, as there isn’t anywhere clean and dry to present your horse. This post isn’t meant to make you feel crap, simply to discuss the issues that your practitioner is facing. You’re not alone and most trimmers and farriers have many field only clients.
The mud in winter can get us all down and seems so inevitable that sometimes we forget that there might be something we can do to improve things. I hope the above has given you a few ideas.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and any thing you’ve found useful for tackling issues with mud in the comments below.
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