Shoes with Pads
Pads are made of plastic or leather and are used between the foot and the shoe for protection of the sole of the foot. “Snowball pads” prevent snow from balling up in the foot. Various other pads can give extra lift to the foot of a horse to exaggerate or encourage his gait or relieve pressure to the heel of the foot for corrective shoeing.
Protection of the Sole
In particularly rocky regions of the country or if your horse has very sensitive feet, he might benefit from protective pads. Pads on the front feet only will usually suffice. They can prevent lameness from stone bruises and provide extra cushion against concussion.
Snowball pads protect the sole as well, but also serve to prevent snow from accumulating in the bottom of the foot during rides and turnout. The center of the pad is a slightly raised, hollow bubble that compresses upon contact with the ground, acting to pop out any snow that's in the foot when the horse's weight is off the foot, and then the bubble returns to its normal, convex position.
Possible Negative Effects of Pads
Like with most equipment, medicines, or work regimes, different horses will react differently to having pads on their feet over time. There is no way to pick or clean the foot if debris gets between the pad and the foot. Some horses might develop thrush. When your farrier comes to give your horse new shoes and pads, he will tell you if the foot is healthy or if your horse's feet might need special attention or thrush preventative care. He might need to go without pads for a shoeing or two. Most horses do fine however, wearing pads throughout the year.
A barefoot horse will have no trouble with snow retention. It is the shoe that creates a hollow area in the foot that traps snow. Snowball pads might be ineffective on a horse that wears bar shoes, which, unlike regular horse shoes, make a full circle around the foot. A larger diameter bubble in the pad might help. Cooking spray on the pad before a ride might also help to keep snow out of the foot.
Pads and shoes protect the foot. However, over time, this protection can actually weaken the foot. Just as our skin develops calluses in places where it is constantly in contact with rougher surfaces, a horse's sole and hoof also harden when left unprotected. If your horse is used to shoes or pads and must go without for some reason, then iodine applied regularly to the hoof and sole of the foot can toughen those areas.