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Trimming Your Horse's Feet

Trimming Your Horse's Feet
Category: Horse Talk Knowledge Base
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Views: 8234
Comments: 10 [Read/Post]

Barefoot trimming, according to its advocates, will allow your horse to develop the hoof shape it would achieve by living in the wild, thus giving your horse the mobility and stability of a horse in its natural environment.

From coast-to-coast, natural-horse promoters are advising horse owners to pull their horses' shoes so that the animals may enjoy the comfort of the barefoot life. You're tempted to do the same, but you're not sure if it's a viable option for your horse. Before you take the plunge, slow down, and learn a little more about your horse's hooves. The payoff might spare your horse a lot of pain - and keep you in the saddle.

Barefoot-Transition Checklist

Here's a checklist to help you evaluate whether your shod horse might be a good candidate for living the barefoot life.

• You've enlisted the aid and involvement of a professional farrier - either one who usually shoes or an experienced trimmer - and a veterinarian who agree that your horse is likely to succeed without shoes.

• Your horse is healthy, fit, and young to middle-aged. He's neither overweight nor underweight, and isn't handicapped by limb or hoof capsule deformities. (Note: Older horses may require more time to adapt, but they're often most deserving of the shoeless life.)

• You're a healthy, fit, observant rider with time to exercise your horse daily and provide hands-on care. Or, your horse is cared for and ridden by someone who shares your interest in trying to trail ride without shoes.

• You give your horse ample turnout, preferably with good drainage and firm ground similar to the terrain on which you typically ride.

• You plan to pull your horse's shoes in the beginning of the off season, as you head into a time when your horse may have a lighter workload.

Follow the links to Feed Supplements for Hooves & Hoof Oils

Step 1:

Consider the pros and cons. Of course, your horse can survive without his shoes. As mentioned, horseshoes are a human convenience. For example, you might create a need for extra protection by deciding to take him on a once-a-month 10km ride in the forestry/mountains over rock and shale. Horseshoes are also a handy support and therapy option for horses troubled by lameness or injury.

Barefoot considerations: There are two primary advantages of pulling your horse's shoes: One, you might (but not necessarily) spend less money maintaining his feet, and two, his feet won't be damaged by repetitive shoeing. The latter is especially true if the quality of shoeing, shoes, and nails used have been substandard.

However, many horses "left" barefoot are also neglected. Many unshod broodmares and older horses don't receive adequate professional care, leaving their feet cracked, diseased, and misshapen. This "barefoot" image tends to make veterinarians and farriers skeptical when owners proudly announce that they want to pull off their horses' shoes.

Sound, barefoot trail horses have hooves that are managed, not neglected. Over time, the conditioned hoof becomes thicker and more robust, with a wide leathery frog and open heels. But it takes a magic formula of nutrition, exercise on firm surfaces, circulation, and judicious trimming to achieve this highly conditioned state.

With or without shoes, there's always a risk your horse could go lame. No one can guarantee that your newly barefoot horse will be sound by a certain date, or that he'll be able to handle a certain trail or distance. Only time and conditions will tell.

Until the year-round shoeing trend, an owner decided at the end of the competition season whether or not to shoe the horse. Some decided to shoe one year and not another, as the horse's level of use changed.

Shoeing considerations: Many new horseshoes are on the market; there's an entire new class of products classified as "soft shoeing." Varying densities of plastic polymers can now be combined in a single shoe to give support and cushioning where needed. The future for synthetic shoes looks bright, even as new forging and casting techniques make top-of-the-line steel horseshoes available with clips, wider heels, toe wear inserts, and even inner-edge traction.

Keep in mind that horseshoe-material quality and application affects a horse's foot. Some farriers charge more than others, but use inferior shoes and nails. Others may charge less and yet use higher-quality materials. A highly skilled farrier may get excellent results from an inexpensive shoe because of his or her foot-preparation, fitting, and nailing skills. Conversely, an unskilled or rushed farrier may damage a horse's foot by applying an expensive imported European horseshoe that's a size too small.

Before you jump to the conclusion that shoeing is an evil practice, keep in mind that you're responsible for your horse's soundness and fitness, qualities you must nurture over your horse's lifetime. You choose who'll shoe or trim your horse, and who'll treat lameness or health problems. You're responsible for your past choices, as well as their long-term effects.

If your horse's hooves have been misshapen by years of wearing shoes that may or may not have been properly fit and applied and changed or reset at a recommended interval, don't panic. Your horse's heels didn't contract overnight; you just learned to recognize the signs of long-term "over-shod horse syndrome." But don't let anyone make you feel guilty; a good farrier can help correct your horse's problems with or possibly without shoes.

Trimming Your Horse's Feet

Step 2:

Consult professionals. Across the country, more trail riders are successfully enjoying their barefoot horses over tough terrain. What's their secret? They have a team of knowledgeable professionals helping them through the process. And, as we learn more about managing this transition, the process should become simpler.

In the meantime, do you have the resources you need to help your horse? Pay special attention to the number-one item: enlisting the services of a professional farrier and veterinarian who agree that your horse is likely to succeed without shoes. Find professionals who'll return your calls and agree to see your horse whenever necessary; close proximity is key. Don't count on online friends or company representatives with products to sell. Their advice can be valuable, but they can't evaluate your horse in the flesh.

Many barefoot opinion leaders are sincere practitioners with plenty of information to share, and you can learn from them. But beware of anyone who prescribes a "one trim fixes all" approach to every horse or someone whose experience was gleaned from a weekend course. Don't let a novice trimmer learn on your horse.

Never underestimate the value of a professional opinion, whether it's from a farrier, a veterinarian, or both. If your current veterinarian/farrier isn't interested in your shoeless goals, ask for a referral to someone who is. Chances are, he or she knows who's good at keeping barefoot horses sound.

Step 3:

Work with your farrier. Most "traditional" farriers declare that they'd rather trim horses than shoe them and are delighted to work with owners who choose not to shoe. However, they may become disgruntled if they feel your horse isn't receiving proper care. They might also object to trim recommendations quoted from a website that aren't suitable for your horse. A farrier who's seen an owner neglect a horse with thrush or white line disease in the past isn't likely to be confident in that owner's long-term commitment to caring for a barefoot horse.

Many farriers also feel that barefoot hoof care is a fad and resent so-called experts who write volumes on a specific hoof structure, without considering the big picture of the whole foot, which is, of course, connected to a living horse. Farriers are taught to look not just at the bottom of a foot, but the way a horse stands, how the foot lands, and the way the leg is constructed. They know that if weight falls unevenly on parts of the foot, the hoof capsule will tell the story. Farriers work to support the foot's attempt to bear weight and move the horse.

A farrier's job is to care for a horse's hooves so that the horse will be useful to his owner for work or recreation. Fifteen years ago, the market was flooded with plastic pads that promised to cushion a horse from hard ground and protruding rocks. Today, some horse owners want to gallop over rocks to see if their horses' bare hooves are tough enough to take the abuse. That's a big change.

Farriers may well be disturbed when they see a formerly sound horse limping and are told that the pain is occurring because the horse "can now feel his feet," and there's no plan on the owner's part to treat the lameness, or consult a veterinarian.

Some farriers may be more interested than others in your quest for a sound barefoot horse. Talk to your farrier honestly before you ask him or her to pull your horse's shoes. He or she may give you new information about your horse's feet that you'll need to consider.

Make sure that anyone you hire understands that trail riding is your goal and that your horse's welfare is paramount. Many "natural" farriers have excellent communication skills and will work with owners to understand the value of daily exercise, turnout, and supportive surfaces. Such suggestions don't replace professional-level horse-handling and trimming skills, years of experience, and an understanding that you wish to ride your horse on the trail on a daily or weekly schedule.

Weigh up your options, and choose the most experienced professional who has the best interest of your horse at heart, regardless of what's on the business card.

Step 4:

Consider the trim. Most responsible experts agree that "the slow approach" is preferable to an aggressive trim that may cause lameness. The best trim for your horse is one that takes him a step closer to ideal hoof balance. Taking too much sole, heel, bar, or wall at once can damage the foot, and isn't necessary. Judicious trimming makes the bars, sole and frog share the weight-bearing on a shoeless hoof but it may not be possible, or wise, to recruit them in the first trim.

If your horse feels progressively sure on his newly bare feet as each week passes, he'll be a pleasure to ride. If he fears for his hooves, he'll take short strides, will fatigue easily, and won't be a pleasant or safe mount for anyone.

Step 5:

Manage problems. The most common problems in newly bare hooves are a shortened stride, tender soles, and, in some cases, extreme soreness. Your horse may be sore simply because he's using his foot ligaments differently. However, most of the time, soreness results when too much sole, heel, bar, and/or wall has been trimmed away, or the foot isn't level. These problems resolve with time, but require first-aid, such as soaking, sole-packing, and applying a foot wrap. You might even need to have the trimmer return to level the foot.

Barefoot horses can be abscess victims and may even develop laminitis. (On the other hand, some chronically lame horses respond positively to shoe removal.) Another source of lameness is the sudden over-lowering of the heels, particularly on a club foot or on a horse with chronic navicular or heel pain. If you're unsure of your horse's lameness history, arrange a consultation between your veterinarian and farrier; x-rays will likely be needed to evaluate inner structures.

Bare feet require the same observant care as shod feet. Examine your horse's feet every morning and night. Place your hands around the coronet and hoof wall, and notice any unusual heat. Run your hand down the back of the fetlock and feel for any elevated pulse. Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect a problem.

Also, be aware of any abnormal stance posture.

Step 6:

Be flexible. Some horses do not do well barefoot, regardless of how well the owner is paying attention, it's not anyone's fault. If a horse is reluctant to walk on gravel, but moves willingly on grass, he may've been trimmed a bit short or may not have a tough enough foot just yet. This may or may not indicate that the individual is too sensitive to be barefoot. If he's shifting on the front feet - the hind feet usually don't seem to be much trouble - then a sole toughener, more time, or both may help.

If your horse fails the barefoot test by continuing to show the above symptoms, reevaluate how the trim is affecting the foot, extend the time, and consult your veterinarian. If this fails, plan to give your horse a few months off, or reapply his shoes.

Step 7:

Give your horse time. Your horse will require at least three or four months to show you how well he's truly adapting to his new shoeless life. However, you can and should exercise him as long as he's sound and not in pain. If he's in pain, call your veterinarian. Pain isn't "part of the process"; it can be caused by any number of foot and leg problems, and only a trained veterinarian can advise you.

Riding regularly will help condition the hooves, but if you're headed on a long ride, consider hoof boots. Hoof-boot design varies widely; look for a model designed specifically for trail riding without steel shoes. You might need to experiment to find the size, shape, and fastening system that suits your horse best. He might need boots on just his front feet or on all four.

If you plan to use hoof boots, start with short rides near home. Your horse will have time to adjust to the boots, and you'll learn how to remove, clean, and fine-tune them so that trail use will be easy. Keep the boots clean, and watch for rub marks on pasterns and heel bulbs. You can carry spare boots in case your barefoot horse becomes tender on the trail, but this isn't ideal; he shouldn't learn to associate the trail with pain.

Know your horses foot Anatomy:

Bar: Continuation of the hoof-wall horn around the heel.

Club foot: A deformed hoof that has high heels and a steep hoof wall, with or without a dish in the toe.

Coronet: The junction of hoof wall and pastern; the "hairline."

Frog: The fleshy triangular pad on the bottom of the horse's foot.

Hoof capsule: The horny covering of the foot, similar to your fingernail.

Hoof heels (open heels vs. contracted heels): Turning points of the hoof wall that may be pinched inward ("contracted") or slope forward ("underrun") from long-time hoof capsule distortion.

Hoof sole: The ground surface of the foot surrounding the frog; the uniform area inside the white line and hoof wall.

Hoof wall: See hoof capsule, above.

Laminitis: A painful inflammation of the lining of the inner hoof wall (called the laminae), often leading to a serious condition called founder and long-term lameness.

Navicular bone: A small bone in the back of the foot, which is commonly injured and subject to pain.

Thrush: A foul-smelling bacterial infection of the frog.

Solar bruises: Damaged areas on the sole caused by internal or external trauma; may not be visible on all feet. Solar bruises in the heel area are called corns.

Sole packing: An application of a soothing buttery mixture to the soles and frogs to alleviate soreness.

White line: The margin between the laminae and the hoof sole.

White line disease: An infection inside the hoof wall.

Comments on Trimming Your Horse's Feet

Marlee Sunday, February 19, 2017 01:04 PM
I have seen so many bad farriers doing my friends horses. These are sports horses that need good feet. They are all shod with the most terrible trims, basically the hoof is shortened slightly and shoe nailed on. They are flared, under-run, even negative palmer/planter angles. The owners believe their farrier knows what they are doing and wonder why they are tender going down hill etc. I personally learned how to do a barefoot trim, learned the anatomy and have done many horses feet. My farrier gave up on my first horses feet because they would crumble and the shoes would fall off. I got desperate and learned myself. He used to get stone bruises/abcesses all the time. I used hoof boots for 2 months while he was out in the paddock. I trimmed them balanced to his conformation and for the last 4 years of his life he never had a bruise again. I have 4 horses now, they are all sound, have never been lame, even the founder pony can now walk on gravel. A barefoot trim should not hurt.
Cathy Caval Wednesday, June 3, 2015 09:24 AM
I have my 2 horses trimmed by a Master Farrier with experience, every 4-5 weeks. They got lame for a couple of days after a trim once, I told him, and they have never been lame since. I do a little trimming myself in between, using only the rasp, keeping the edges rounded. I did a one day workshop twice, with Andrew Bowe, excellent. I also researched the topic on line, it is important to be able to gauge what is done to the feet of our horses. The foot of a horse is such an intricate structure, and needs to be maintained 'balanced'. I would no trust barefoot trimmers who have not done an comprehensive course (there is one in Victoria), and do not have experience.
Jacquie Everson Friday, May 2, 2014 04:27 PM
I have recently acquired a Thoroughbred, she had her feet bared trimmed 2 weeks ago, now is lame with an abscess to boot, so worried about how to maintain her feet and prevent ongoing abscesses and huge vet bills.
christine williams Wednesday, March 5, 2014 04:11 PM
I have Arabians and Thoroughbreds, when my farrier trims my horses they are always lame, in all feet, and the Thoroughbreds are the ones that suffer the most. i have asked him to trim some sole off, they seem to be walking on thier soles,, what's your advice, am i barking up the wrong tree????
Erin Stevenson Sunday, February 2, 2014 07:36 AM
What a lot of people don't realise is that trimming is only 20% of the process. You could have the best barefoot farrier in the world, but if your horse's diet is full of sugar and starch and hot pellets and god knows what other 'performance supplements', you are never going to have your horse comfortable in his hooves. What goes into his mouth will eventually reach his hooves. Barefoot trimming is NOT about trimming, it is about the holistic approach to horse care.
Helen Carter Saturday, February 1, 2014 03:03 PM
I used to think that there was no other choice but to shoe. I bought a thoroughbred that had been shod so badly that he was lame on and off for a year. I started filing his feet myself just slightly every couple of weeks, now he is good. I now do this with all my horses, no problems. Gone with the shoes and now I have more money to spend on rugs! lol
Margaret Dubois Saturday, February 1, 2014 11:02 AM
From my experience with a barefoot trimmer, I don't think they have a clue what wild horses feet look like. ( I was bought up with brumbies on our property. )
I've been lucky enough to get a highly qualified farrier to fix up the mess that the barefoot farrier did. Never again.
Chris Maroni Friday, January 31, 2014 08:58 PM
Ladies, I am very sad to read about your dealings with trimmers. I work in the industry as a Bowen Therapist/EBW and see horses every day who are not receiving a balanced trim. It is not about Trimmer V's Farrier though, its about the education level and experience of the individual that you are employing to balance your horses hooves. Keep searching until you find one that trims within the parameters that you are happy with, it appears that as horse owners we need to gain an education on hoof balance so we can make an informed decision that we are getting what we e pay for or not. I would also ask who your trimmer/farrier is insured with, this will give them some credibility as generally they have to keep up with their studies for an insurance company to cover them
lhanvey@bigpond.com Friday, January 31, 2014 04:14 PM
Yes Margaret, I too am on the Mid North Coast of NSW and I have had no end of problems with the so called bare foot mob of trimmers, I now use professionally trained farriers who are fixing my horses, but still the damage has been done. Some of these people who do short courses etc should be held accountable and should not be anywhere near a horse.
Margaret Dubois Friday, January 31, 2014 03:38 PM
It totally depends on who is doing the barefoot trimming. I feel I must warn people after what happened to my horses.
First of all, I was bought up on the Great Diving range neat Tamworth.
We had thousands of acres of mountainous country, and our stock horses ( Staying thoroughbred/ Endurance Arabian/ Radium cross, )would have to muster up to 50 mile per day. It was good basalt soil, the only hand feed the horses got were some "pig" potatoes when it snowed in winter. They lived into their 30's, and were humanly put down, if need be. They never had their feet trimmed or where shod. They all had good feet, and were incredibly sure footed. We rode where you wouldn't walk.
For the past 40 years, I have had my Arabians trimmed by master farriers.
NSW and QLD. Never had a problem.
I moved to the mid north coast of NSW and Bare Foot Trimming is all the go. within 6 months this so called Bare foot farrier, ( who said he had studied this, that and the other, wrecked my beautiful horses feet.

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