Hooves too hard to trim?
Or perfectly suited to the environment?
by Frances Guthrie ©2006
Here in beautiful British Columbia, the wet days of winter and
early spring have transformed to the drier, sunny warm weeks of the coming summer.
Muddy paddocks and rain-saturated pastures are mere memoriestill next
Naturally, as the ground dries up and the terrain becomes firm,
hooves are affected. The walls and bars become stronger, the frogs get tough
and leathery, and the soles get hard. Farriers and barefoot trimmers alike may
be overheard commenting on hard hooves.
Those who dont use power tools may lament the hardness of
the sole and bar horn in particular, as the sharpest hoof knife simply chatters
across the sole, only barely leaving a scratch. Even the hoof nippers may be
challenged by walls that are incredibly hard.
Soaking for hoursfirst the hooves, in an effort to soften
them, and then the trimmers muscles at the end of the daybecomes
a daily, unrewarding chore!
Is this a problem or a situationwhat is the problem? Hooves are dynamic and adaptable, another of natures miracles... which leads me to observe that hard, tough hooves with thick soles and strong bars are perfectly suited to the situation!
Left: A perfectly adapted hard terrain front hoof. Note the
polishing of the heel/bulb/frog area. Right: This hind hoof just returned from
a riding holiday on very dry terrainself-trimming for a couple of weeks,
nicely worn and lots of concavity!
In general, the horses I trim have very hydrated hooves through
the winter months; if the horses have some drier, rocky ground or cement floor
near the shelter, they remain healthy, maintain their form easily and are strong
and functional. This is not the case if horses are restricted to water-logged
pastures or muddy areas only, and problems such as loss of hoof height, soft
soles, and compromised white lines can develop.
So, what to do in the summer months when the hoof is so dry that
the sole and bars resist trimming? Well, I think (within reason, of course!)
that healthy hooves adapt quite well to the environmenthard and dry for
hard, dry terrain, softer and more flexible for wetter, soft terrain. It just
makes sensehow could a soft, flexible, moist hoof sustain the concussion
and impact of rocky, dry, unyielding terrain?
Mindful trimming requires us to re-consider perceptions and perspectives.
To look for answers in nature, learn from our observations. And perhaps to further
define our role as a hoof trimmer, just taking the place of inadequate movement
over abrasive dirt or stone! Of course, its not that simple, and hoof
care providers should be skilled, educated and knowledgeable.
Meanwhile, summer is here, and Im liberated, free to admire
and appreciate strong, tough, dry hooveshooves of flint, hooves of steel,
hooves like iron... theyre great!
Yes, the horn is harder to trim, and the rasp dulls faster. Thats perfection in the horse world. Remember, firm terrain is just what the horse evolved towards from a three-toed forest dweller.
Trimming a healthy hoof that is adapted to hard terrainwell,
its easy, really. If the heels have grown excessively, I trim them to
a height just above the sole. I may rasp the wall down a little to lightly scoop
the quarters. I always round (or bevel) the hoof wallif you look in the
microscope, even a flat-appearing hoof wall on soft terrain is rounded! I remove
any flaring, ensure there is no dishing in the toe walltrimming the toe
wall parallel to the coffin bone is really important. Correct breakover/toe
length is vital for healthy concavity, vertical toe height and to prevent contracting
forces on the heels.
I trim the bars level with the soleif you do this with the
nippers, you wont be trying to force your hoof knife to do an impossible
job. And the soleif it is smooth and/or tightly connected, I leave it
alone (think sturdy soles on your mountain hiking boots). If it is shedding
in large, easy-to-remove chunks, I go ahead and help them off. It makes the
hoof pretty, and me feel good. But really, one more trail ride would probably
have done the job for you.
If your experience is trimming to specific parameters, it would
certainly be possible to form an opinion that adapting the trim and removing
less horn is an effort to avoid hard work. Id do anything for the horses,
regardless of how hard the workso in this case, Im trimming less,
and the hard work is in the form of a willingness to trust that nature is always
As I trim to suit the horses, their hoof form continues to improve, they move more comfortably, and I no longer hassle my clients to soak hooves beyond the overflowing water trough. Overly-hydrated hooves in a dry environmentwhats natural about that?
Left: A hoof from a horse located in an area that is dry
in the summerand in need of a trim. Right: Same hoof, after trimmingwith
hand tools onlyworking with nature as much as possible.
About the author: Former farrier and graduate of Dr Strassers certification course (2002), Frances incorporates the techniques of many popular barefoot trimming methods in her work. When shes not consulting or trimming hooves, Frances is often found teaching natural horsemanship; her students learn to ride bareback and bitlesson barefoot horses, naturally!
This article was printed in issue 24 of The Horse's Hoof Magazine.
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©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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