At Scoot Boots we always recommend that you engage an experienced, qualified barefoot trimmer to care for your barefoot horse’s feet. In this blog, we will explain why and explore what a proper barefoot trim can do for your barefoot horse in comparison to a traditional pasture trim.
By Helle Maigaard Erhardsen
We all know how important regular hoof care is to our horses. However, what’s just as important, is to choose a hoof care professional that is qualified to take care of barefoot horses in particular. The reason is that a barefoot horse needs to be trimmed differently to a horse that wears shoes and not all hoof carers are qualified to do that.
A barefoot trim is the best trim for a barefoot horse because of its specific aim to imitate the trimming that would naturally occur in wild horses. Wild horse’s incredible ability to maintain strong, resilient, healthy hooves are due to two main factors; their natural diet and extensive daily amount of movement. Ideally, we shouldn’t need to trim our horses at all, but the domestication of horses has changed their circumstances dramatically.
Horse owners are frequently faced with a myriad of hoof related issues that are largely caused by the consequences of domestication. These consequences are typically lack of movement and exercise due to stabling and turnout in small paddocks, inappropriate diet such as low fibre sugary grasses and grain feeds, and lack of consistent hoof conditioning across a variety of surfaces such as rocks and gravel.
Horse shoes were initially invented to make the horse better equipped for our domestic purposes. Today horse shoes are still used as a remedy for hoof issues, although they address the symptoms of the issue and are not a cure for the cause of the issue. On the contrary, the barefoot approach to hoof care seeks to support the horse in building strong, resilient hooves to optimise their ability to heal themselves from inside out.
That’s why it is essential to choose a hoof care professional that understands what underpins healthy barefoot hooves and how to support them. In the following, we will look at how a qualified barefoot trim can support healthy, high functioning barefoot hooves and the health of the horse as a whole, as opposed to a traditional pasture trim.
Whether your hoof carer is a farrier or barefoot trimmer, they should be capable of identifying why the hoof is growing as it is, what it is supporting and what it is possibly compensating for.
The Traditional Pasture Trimming of Horses
We are well aware that some shoeing farriers will be better educated in barefoot hoof function and trimming than others. Likewise, not all who call themselves barefoot trimmers are qualified or have acquired sufficient knowledge or experience to do a good job. However, the difference between these hoof professionals' initial approach to hoof care can be quite significant.
Traditionally, a shoeing farrier is primarily trained to have great knowledge about horseshoes and how these can be used for different purposes. As such, it is only natural that a shoeing farrier will reach for a shoe in order to correct various hoof issues rather than look at how the hoof can be helped to heal itself. This has likely not been a part of his initial farrier training as the main objective would be to learn how to shoe a horse correctly.
When you call a traditional shoeing farrier and ask him to trim your barefoot horse, he will commonly perform a so-called pasture trim. The term “pasture trim” refers to the fact that it is recommended to let shod horses out of their shoes for a time once a year to let the hooves recover from the shoes and nails. During this time, the horse will usually not be ridden due to the lack of shoes, whereas the horse will be turned out on pasture.
The technique of a pasture trim is practically no different to the trim the farrier would do before applying a new shoe. The farrier will ordinarily cut or rasp the entire hoof back to a flat plain appropriate to suit the shape of a shoe. This means that all parts, heel, bars, hoof wall, sole and frog will be taken back to a specified height and levelled out, if the hoof has grown taller on one side or has flared at the bottom. Finally, the farrier will rasp the edges of the hoof wall to prevent chipping.
It can be risky business to cut back the sensitive sole and frog on an unshod horse and it’s not uncommon that pasture trimmed horses become sore after a trim.
Imitating Natural Hooves with a Barefoot Trim
Quite differently to a pasture trim, a barefoot trim seeks to take as little off the hoof as possible. The ultimate aim of a barefoot trim is to help the horse develop as tough, hard wearing and healthy bare hooves as he would have had, if he had lived in the wild. In principle, a barefoot trimmer will only take away the excessive growth of the toes that the horse’s environment hasn’t been able to help him wear off naturally. As the frog and sole will shed themselves, these parts are usually left untouched.
A sound horse should primarily land heel-first, which means the health and functionality of the frogs are of the essence. As such, it could have wide ranging consequences if the frogs are cut back to the point of soreness. Further, thin and sensitive soles are a common hoof issue in domesticated horses and it would only exacerbate the issue, if the soles and the toe callus were to be trimmed back beyond what they would naturally shed.
Another typical difference between a barefoot trim and a pasture trim is the length of the toe and breakover. Since a pasture trim commonly will shorten the entire hoof, the toe is often left longer than after a barefoot trim, and this longer, straight toe is likely to delay the breakover of the foot. On the contrary, barefoot trimmers use a so-called brumby roll technique to round the toe at the hoof's natural breakover point, to imitate what would have occurred naturally if the horse had worn his hooves as wild horses do.
A barefoot trim will also rarely try to level out the hoof or change it’s conformation before closely assessing if these imperfections have a functional purpose for that particular horse. For instance, flaring on the inside of a front hoof could indicate that the shoulder of the horse is stronger and bigger on that side. Then it’s a biomechanical issue that needs addressing by an equine body worker and in such a case, it could cause imbalances throughout the horse's body or even lameness, if the flare is taken away without addressing the underlying cause.
This Thoroughbred is basically self-trimming due to good hoof conditioning in his home environment. Six weeks after his last trim, all his barefoot trimmer needed to do was a light rasp at the tip of his toe and heels.
Barefoot Trimming should be a Holistic Approach
According to Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite in Feet First - Barefoot Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation, there are three main factors contributing to healthy hooves. Roughly, the horse’s diet accounts for 65% and his environment/exercise accounts for 25%, whereas trimming actually only accounts for 10% of the contribution to healthy hooves.
As barefoot trimming is informed by the studies of wild horses’ tough and naturally healthy hooves, it belongs to the barefoot approach to include the knowledge of all the factors that contribute to good barefoot hoof health. As such, your barefoot trimmer should furthermore be able to advise you on the importance of a fibre/forage based diet and appropriate environment for barefoot hoof conditioning.
This holistic approach to hoof care also includes acknowledging the need for cooperation with other equine health care professionals in order to treat the horse as a whole. For example, if your horse has biomechanical issues that have affected his hooves, it is invaluable that your horse’s body worker and hoof carer can work together on developing a plan to make a joint effort to best help your horse recover. It could also be cooperation with your horse’s vet, podiatrist, equine nutritionist or even your riding instructor.
But perhaps most importantly, your barefoot trimmer should be able to involve you, the horse’s owner, in their work. Your trimmer might be visiting you every four to six weeks, but in between those visits it is crucial you understand the treatment plans and know how to exercise them. A trimmer can only do so much, if the work isn’t continued on a daily basis by the horse’s owner. In the end, your engagement is likely to be the key to the success of your horse’s treatment.
A good trimmer will want to see how your horse moves before assessing how he needs to be trimmed.
Hoof Boots and Trimming in Barefoot Transitioning
Very often horse owners decide to go barefoot with their horses simply because shoes haven’t worked out for them. Either the horse keeps losing shoes and rips his hoof walls in the process, or remedial shoes have been applied to help treat a hoof or lameness issue and haven’t been effective. Although it is important in this situation to realise, that you will need the support of your hoof carer in the process of transitioning out of shoes.
As such, it could be counterproductive to hold on to your shoeing farrier during transition, if he is not fully supportive of your decision to get rid of the shoes and if he doesn’t have the motivation and knowledge to help your horse through the transition to barefoot. Particularly if your horse is being transitioned to barefoot for rehabilitation purposes, you do not want him to have a traditional pasture trim. Instead he will need the entire holistic approach of an experienced rehab barefoot trimmer.
When a horse who has barely ever touched the ground with his bare feet due to the application of horseshoes, you must expect some degree of foot soreness after removing the shoes. Sore feet could make your horse alter his gait and movements in an attempt to avoid the pain, which could result in a whole other range of problems. As such, you want to ease the transition. The best way of getting your horse used to touching the ground and rebuilding his hoof strength naturally, is by letting him wear some well fitting, shock absorbing hoof boots.
Most experienced barefoot trimmers provide the service of helping to fit suitable hoof boots on your horse and if not, try finding one in your area by using our Scoot Boots stockist list. This list might also be helpful to locate a qualified barefoot trimmer if you’ve been inspired to try a different approach to hoof care and a more appropriate trimming of your barefoot horse.
Although Scoot Boots offer supreme protection of your barefoot horse, these boots still allow hoof stimulation from the ground, which is essential for the hoof to recover its strength and soundness.
About the author
Helle Maigaard Erhardsen is an investigative journalist specialising in environmental issues. Her devotion to the outdoors includes a life long passion for horses of which she has two: Pannigan, an off-the-track Thoroughbred and Audrey, a Shetland pony, who are both bitless and barefoot. Helle is born in Denmark, where she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2015. Her work is characterised by comprehensive research and she was nominated for the special media award Bording Prisen for her investigative reporting with the newspaper Ing.dk. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Journalism, Media and Communication from UTAS, when she relocated to Tasmania.