shows two people measuring a horse' feet. They're concerned that climate change could cause trouble for these animals.
Photo courtesy: Eastern Equine Associates

By Cassidy Carr

Have you ever wanted soft feet? While having soft feet might sound nice to humans, it is a huge concern for horses.

After it rains, it is natural for the ground to become wet. But after a while, the ground dries up. However, after bigger storms, the ground can take a few or more days to dry up. For horses who spend their lives outside, it is obvious their feet would be wet after it has rained. 

I spoke to Holly Hyatt, a farm owner and friend who had been around horses since she was a little girl. She told me all the ways they prepare their horses for stronger weather; the horses need to be moved to the middle of the field away from structures or trees that could fall over.

But what I found interesting, was that the horses’ hooves can suffer with extreme weather changes.

“Really wet environments are not good for the horses’ hooves. They have hard hooves, but if they stay in water, just like our skin, they become soft. So then they become sensitive to rocks or hard surfaces,” Hyatt said. She later explained that if their hooves become too dry, they start cracking and breaking down.  

I later spoke to veterinarian Anyce Nagle, who works at Eastern Equine Associates in New Bern. We talked about horse health, along with what effects weather has on them. The horses’ management plays a huge role as to how well they react to weather. 

“I think one of the biggest things that we’re seeing right now that a lot of people don’t consider is that with the weather changes like we have been seeing,” Nagle said.

Horses can become lame with extreme weather changes. The term “lame” is used to describe horses when they are in pain or injured. Since their hooves are made of keratin like our fingernails, they are able to become soft or really dry and cause the horses to be lame. The horses are then not able to carry riders or support themselves that well.

Other issues horses can face are with their skin. Some of the horses with a fur coat that is a lighter color can get sunburnt. Sometimes the horses are not able to sweat which can cause other problems.

Amazingly, wild horses such as the ones on Shackelford Island or the Outer Banks don’t suffer as much from these problems. This is because the sand is a softer surface and will not harm their hooves when they are soft. The water can also help them cool off easier.