Barefoot Trimming and Trimming for a Shoe

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I do a lot of hoof trims, not just a lot of horses, but a lot of different types of trims. So to say I just do a barefoot trim is really not correct. My trims vary due to the problem the horse is having at that particular time and change from hoof to hoof. I may trim for more frog pressure, less wall interaction with the earth, more sole pressure etc. But one type of trim I don’t have to do anymore is trim a foot to accept a metal shoe. There’s an art to barefoot trimming and an art to properly shoeing a horse. People seem to take one side or the other, barefoot or shod, and then the discussion, or arguments begin.

In this blog I want to focus on trimming for the health of the horse and not on labelling types of trims or trimming methods. I don’t care if you call yourself a trimmer, farrier, shoer or just a chop and drop artist, in my opinion, the real goal of any trim should be to aid the horse in being comfortable and reducing any problems the horse may be having. You can call this trim anything you want, but if you think about the horse’s needs and how you can help get those feet healthy again then you are on the right path.

So let’s get to it. The number one mistake I see being made by anyone trimming hooves is removing too much sole. If you take a trimming class from me you will hear the following quote scores of times: “Keep your knife in your pocket”. Just use your knife to scrape away enough old flaky sole material to find your landmarks. There are times when built up sole needs to be removed, but those are special cases that we are not discussing here. Nothing makes a horse lame faster than carving out sole, so just do the minimum.

 The number two mistake I see is lowering the heels too much and putting excess pressure on a weak frog or undeveloped rear of the foot. Learn to read the development of the internal structures of the foot and trim to develop them. But remember to stimulate, not annihilate. Just because the beautiful feet on the internet have super short heels doesn’t mean your horse is ready for them. You will get there, just be patient.

The number three mistake I see is not following the live sole while trimming the hoof wall. This is one of the features that people love to point to as a difference between a barefoot trim and a “pasture” trim. When people think pasture trim they tend to think of a hoof that is trimmed with completely flat hoof walls, just like the foot is trimmed to receive a metal shoe. Of course this is necessary to properly set a shoe, and with the shoe limiting the flexing of the foot this makes sense. But, without a shoe in place, the hoof will flex, especially at the quarters and a foot that is trimmed flat may crack as it flexes. However, many hooves lack the famous arch in the sole at the quarters so even a barefoot trim will be relatively flat. So, don’t judge the trim without looking at the sole. And don’t cut into live sole to create an arch when one doesn’t exist in the sole, that’s just a mistake.

The number four mistake, and another of the division points between a trim for a shoe/ pasture trim and a barefoot trim, is the lack of the mustang roll or bevel. Again when setting a shoe, no roll at the edge of the hoof wall is necessary and adding one would be incorrect. The roll simulates the wear pattern seen on wild horses and is supposed to push the whole hoof capsule together thus reducing pulling the walls away from the internal structures. I see huge rolls and I see tiny rolls, it’s almost a trimmer’s individual signature. But without setting a shoe, the roll is mandatory in my opinion, especially if you want to reduce chipping and cracking of the hoof wall.

The last “mistake” we will discuss is chopping off huge pieces of frog. Only clean up the loose flaps and any tissue attacked by fungus or thrush. Leave absolutely all the frog you can. It’s a blood pump and a cushion. The horse needs it. Don’t shave it off just to make it look pretty and clean. An ugly frog is a happy frog.

 Trimming to set a shoe has rules and is done the way it is done for a reason. Trimming in the barefoot method has rules and reasons too. With the unshod foot flexing more easily than a shod foot, how the foot interacts with the ground is of utmost importance. Each trim must consider the end result, shod or bare. So, no matter if you are a shoer or a barefoot trimmer, the health of the horse, it’s current issues and what is interacting with the ground (a bare hoof or a shoe) are your concerns. But, a trim that is done to accommodate a metal shoe is not likely a good fit for a flexing bare hoof, just like a rolled and arched hoof would be a poor mate with a shoe.

So, to me if the sole is left intact, the heel height is correct for the development of the rear of the foot, the hoof walls follow the sole (flat or arched), there is a bevel or roll on the edge of the walls and the frog has been invaded minimally you are well on your way to a great barefoot trim…call it whatever you want.

Like I stated in the beginning of this blog, I trim each hoof as an individual and to judge my “method” on one foot would be wrong. If I trim forty feet in a day, no two will be the same, but the one thing they all have in common is that I consider the needs of the horse first and I remember that the hoof will have direct contact with the earth and should be prepared accordingly. I don’t know what you call my trimming style but always it’s the horse first, human rules a distant second.

Hopefully, now you understand a little more clearly the difference between trimming for a shoe and trimming a barefoot hoof. Each is done a particular way for a reason and both are correct for their application. But, rarely are they interchangeable…kind of like ketchup and chocolate syrup.
Jay DeHart
Stevensville, Montana 
Former Farrier...turned Barefoot Trimmer, Specializing in Hoof Rehab
After learning to shoe horses and not totally believing in the concept, I found the barefoot trimming method and never put shoes on another horse. 

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  • Loren: September 06, 2018

    Very insightful and helpful information, thank you!

  • Paula: July 31, 2018

    Thank you! Excellent piece of information.

  • Paula: July 31, 2018

    Thank you! Excellent piece of information.

  • Paula: July 31, 2018

    Thank you! Excellent piece of information.

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