Today I’d like to discuss one important thing to do, and one important thing NOT to do when trimming your horse’s hooves.
What to do: Follow the sole contour when trimming the hoof walls
What NOT to do: Rasp, carve, whittle, dig at or remove the toe callus (there are exceptions but those are for a different blog)
Very often I see supposedly barefoot trims that just rasp the hoof walls flat. Just like you would do if you were to prep the foot for nailing on a shoe. True the hoof may be bare, but this is not considered a barefoot trim. Part of completing a barefoot trim is following the contour of the sole with the finished height of the hoof wall. Often this will include the walls dipping or scooping at the hoof quarters. This is taught by all the trimming schools I know of, but doesn’t always get incorporated into real world trims. In more extreme cases, with horses that require extra heel height, you may need to follow the sole height until you reach the heels, then allow the heel walls to extend well beyond the sole height. I call these “hooked heels”. The hoof when viewed in the standing position will show a large gap from the ground at the quarters. This is just an example of following the sole yet providing the type of trim needed for that specific horse. Note that some hooves will have a sole that varies very little in contour front to back. In this case, again, follow the sole even if it appears nearly flat. Don’t cut a scoop at the quarters just because that’s the way the hooves on the internet look. See the picture below for an example of following the sole contour on a horse that needs “hooked heels”.
Now let’s touch on, or don’t touch on, the toe callus. Many horses have what is called a toe callus. See the picture below for an example circled in red.
This is developed by the horse during movement to protect the coffin bone and inner structures of the foot. There are cases of pathology that will cause this tissue to develop into a lump greater than 1” in height, but those cases are best handled by an experienced professional trimmer. For today, let’s stick to a normal callus. This growth is pure gold to the horse and should not be trimmed away. This is another thing that I see happening in the field. Trimmers, or trimming owners, getting knife happy and cutting this material away as they do their sole clean up. It’s often better to leave your knife in your pocket than to trim too much sole. There’s a time and place to trim the sole, but if you have doubts in what you are doing, don’t do anything. Most horses exfoliate their own soles, thank you very much, and don’t need a whittler trying to make their feet look like the pretty pictures on the internet. See the picture below of a sole that will be mostly left “as is”. This horse is sound with some built up bar and flaky sole tissue and goes slightly lame with a heavy sole clean up. Much of that flaky tissue will exfoliate on its own as the horse hits a few trails and toughens up its sole, but until then, it may not look pretty, but it works.
So, there you have it, two simple trimming steps that often get forgotten or done incorrectly in the field. Not all trims in real field work look “perfect”, but when you keep the horse’s needs first and foremost, ugly can be exactly what a horse needs. Just remember to follow the sole, and that having a callus can be a good thing…plus, leaving your knife in your pocket may make your horse a lot happier.
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.