Pete Ramey says, "Since the sole is the first line of defense between the horse and the ground, its proper management is crucial to soundness."
How many of you believe that? How many feel their farrier believes that? How many of you have sat by and watched your farrier just slice away the very 'soul' of the sole?
I would say anyone who has used a farrier or shod their horses has.
Of course there might be an exception or two. That goes un-questioned. There are always exceptions 'to the rule'.
But again, to quote Pete, "As a horseshoer it always seemed necessary for me to routinely cut the sole at the toe, and in my early days as a barefoot trimmer I thought it was desirable to thin it at the back of the foot. When I began both professions, I was taught to view the sole as an idle passenger; trimming the hoof wall to certain parameters and then trimming or relieving the sole to match."
Now I've studied many of the masters of farrier as well as barefoot trimmers. I like what Pete has to teach about the sole of the equine hoof. He teaches to 'follow the sole' ... the sole being an absolute landmark and guideline to trimming the rest of the hoof.
Never to be sliced away or knifed away ... and notice where the sole, proper, lies on the hoof: (Yep, I know, I've posted this illustration previously but heck .. its a good illustration, if I do say so myself!)
Do you see the pink area that is highlighted?
That's the 'sole proper' ... read the quote from Pete again ...
"Since the sole is the first line of defense between the horse and the ground, its proper management is crucial to soundness."
Embed that into your thinking. Because, it's true.
Imagine this ... you've spent the entire winter in soft, fluffy slippers walking on soft, fluffy rug. Now comes spring time and you're ready to bare your sole. (haha -- yeah, pun intended) so you toss your slippers aside and with a wisp of carefree air, slip out your front door to feel the ground underneath your bare feet. Ahhhhhh, the new spring grass feels wonderful! It's almost as soft as your living-room carpet. But wait ... go onto the gravel driveway and what do you feel? OW! That stuff HURTS! There's NO WAY you're going to go 'trotting' up your driveway in your bare feet to get your mail or even to grab the cat that ran out the door!
You can't because ..
But, a little conditioning, a little building up of the thickness of callus on the soles of your feet and, in no time at all, you'll be running and galloping like your own horse up your gravel drive to get the mail without a mis-step or one "owie".
Now, imagine someone coming along and with the use of a sharp knife starts paring away that wonderful callus ... NOW what !?!?!?!?
You'll be hard-pressed to even take a step on GRASS, never mind the sharp, raspy terrain of gravel!
Well, my friends, that's the difference between a pasture trim and a natural trim.
Natural trimmers are taught to LEAVE the callused sole of the hoof and 'follow the sole, as I said, as a landmark for the rest of the trimming.
Why follow it? Because its a mirror of the foot, the P3, inside that hoof capsule.
The natural formation of the bone inside will cause the sole to be shaped just as it is. The arch (concavity) to the underside of the bone should be mirrored on the sole but always remembering that each hoof is an individual. The callused sole should be LEFT ALONE to provide the excellence in protection that the sole is supposed to supply.
So now, how to tell what DOES need to be trimmed from the sole and what should be left? Yes, we do trim the soles now and again ... depending on the individual, as stated, as well as the terrain, the environment and the discipline of the individual horse and rider.
My rule of thumb that I've mentioned in previous articles is, if the sole is exfoliating itself nicely, leave it alone. If it's powdery, scrape it off. If there are pieces that are peeling and they are removed easily ... then carefully use the knife to remove them.
With a few serious exceptions, no one should ever be trying to 'carve' the 'perfect shaped sole' to the horse's hoof! ... Not ever.
The following shows a nice hoof with good sole depth ...
So that’s my stance on how to care for the ‘soul of the sole’ … if this principle of trimming the natural hoof is closely tended then the horses who are the lucky receivers of this care will be totally ‘rock crunching’ on all terrain.
And you’ll be the lucky human owned by a ‘rock crunching’ horse … and his exceptionally strong hooves!
If you're enjoying these blog posts and would like to learn even more for your own education or to get a solid foundation so as to further your career in natural hoofcare, please feel free to ask me about PENZANCE Natural Hoofcare 101 Home Study courses. They are not 'how to trim' courses without the supervision of a solid mentor but they will give you all the 'text book' knowledge that you need and then some! All in the comfort of your own home AND with as much communication and support with me and other graduates as you'd like! Thanks for reading!
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf
Hi Brenda! Yeah, I live here in SW Florida, too … making sure the horses get on dry ground and have time each day to walk are hard, dry surface will help alot. 10 mins a day walking on tarred roads would help greatly! It’s tough, tho — this is not a welcoming environment for hooves during the summer time.
Whenever anyone wants to ride across terrain that differs from what the horse lives on its imperative that each day the horse gets some time on that very terrain on which it is ridden. So, as I said, the tarred roads would be good or hard pack gravel roads. Hand walk … easy does it. You could also do a couple of other things. One would be to set up your turnout as a “Paddock Paradise” track and pour hard pack in areas where the horse has to walk over it repeatedly to get to food, water, shelter, etc. Another would be to simply put in a hardpack area in the paddock, again where the horse spends alot of time. Both are efforts that go a long way. We put in shell pack under the oak trees where my guys hang out. That gives them a dry, hard surface that is doing a marvelous job of keeping their hooves trimmed!
The other factor that is involved includes diet and minerals. I feed a fresh diet … no processed feed or supplements. That is to augment the free choice hay that is there for them at all times as well as the grass. Fresh ‘salads’ daily will add the variety of nutrients that help them to grow in hooves like steel! EVEN in our wet, soggy environment. :)
I live in southern Florida. Our natural environment of sandy, wet soil does not do much to help toughen the soles. Any tips you could give as to how we can help condition the sole would be much appreciated. I would love to get to the point that I could just keep my mare barefoot and still be able to canter across the gravel driveways.
This makes so much sense and as a person new to barefoot am finding it really helpful.
Thank for the comments! I’m glad this is helpful to you. :D
Should be required reading and great diagrams!
That makes so much sense this is such a great article