Soul of the Sole ...

Wow, last week's blog post really turned heads and got some fair discussion going on everywhere!  Who wudda thunk that "bars" could be so controversial? 

I wrote about the trimming of bars; this week, let's talk about trimming of sole. (or, should that be soul? *grin*) 

Way back when we started this blog I talked about each part of the hoof and the purpose of that part.  In this blog post I talked about how to determine where in the foot the P3 (Coffin Bone) rests.  The following illustration is from that post: 

Keep in mind that these measurements are not exact for every hoof. Each hoof, EACH hoof, is individualistic.  

See in illustration 2 where there is a grey area in the middle of the hoof? That is the Coffin Bone.  

It is the SOLE of the hoof that one does NOT want to pare away!  This area, that protects the coffin bone inside the foot, is the thinnest part of the bottom of the hoof and unless it is exfoliating on its own or is extremely thick from lack of proper trimming, this area should pretty much be left alone on a healthy, well maintained hoof. The very most thin spot on the hoof's sole is around the apex. This point is one of the determining points as to how thick the sole on that individual hoof really is and should not be pared away for any reason except specific pathological instances. 

For whatever reason, this hoof following shows the sole being pared away and one can SEE how thick the protective callused sole is: 

Can you see the depth here and imagine how much sole has been taken away from this hoof? It appears to have been taken below the concavity of the apex!  This leaves less than 1/2" of live sole to the hoof, none of which is callused. Imagine walking out on gravel in your own bare feet after wearing slippers all winter! You'll have no callus built up as you would at the end of a barefoot summer and it's going to HURT!  With horses, the damage done to the P3 is greater than what would happen to our own feet when walking without protective callusing.

Bruising leading to abscesses and infection will plague the hoof of which the sole has been trimmed down to such a level. 

I won't mention the heels and frog being trimmed away - that's another piece to trimming the hoof that needs separate explanation but suffice to say this horse would not be able to walk without some major protection added to the hoof. Given the tell-tale holes in the outer wall of the hoof one can assume this hoof is being 'prepared' for a new set of shoes. The pink seen on the sole is bruising and blood just under the surface from damage to the sole corium. (sole corium is composed of the fine hairlike papillae over the entire inner surface of the sole. These papillae furnish nourishment and growth to the sole proper. When damaged they cannot feed the hoof or grow sole as intended.) 

This is NOT what one wants to see for a barefoot horse! 

If your horse is otherwise healthy and has no pathological situations going on, please, please, if your trimmer or farrier starts to pare into the sole of your horse's hoof, stop him/her and ask WHY?  Cleaning up of a healthy barefoot horse should entail nothing more than a slight skimming of loose sole horn - horn that is exfoliating already. 

THIS ... is what one would rather see for a relatively healthy, barefooted horse with regard to the sole: 

(Photo courtesy of Monika Martin, Balanced Hoof Services, NHC102 Professional Graduate, NH, USA)

Another example of a barefoot trim from Marjorie Smith

You can see that the wall has been trimmed down, the sole callus has been balanced, the heels trimmed but no sole has been touched. This trim is not finished but shows a great example of healthy, callused sole being left intact. 

(Please keep in mind I'm talking about HEALTHY hooves; not hooves with excess retained false sole or other such situations. That is a whole, 'nother ball o'wax when trimming hooves!)  

Pete Ramey states, "The sole of the foot is the most abused and misunderstood part of the domestic horse (with the possible exception of its digestive system). I’ve been guilty of it, too. 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 see the sole as the ultimate guide for hoof trimming; ..."

If you have a farrier trimming your horses' hooves, please be sure that he or she understands the importance of the sole of the equine hoof.

It truly is the 'soul' of the foot. 




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:


Thanks, Philip, for your comment! I love hearing successful ‘barefoot’ stories!!! :)

Gwenyth Santagate May 31, 2017

This is a great article! I have ridden barefoot under much criticism while maintaining that the trim is the secret to being able to ride! When I was a child I could run barefoot on a railroad track with sharp rocks and hot steel! Today I can’t go bsfefooted in my house without limping! A tough sole should be left alone, bats should be level with wall and horses gait and stride depend on the health of the whole foot not just the length of the wall!

Philip lindsey May 30, 2017

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