Intro: Here at The Horse’s Hoof, we’ve been asked countless times, by so many people, to explain the differences between various popular barefoot trimming methods. When it comes right down to it, that is a nearly impossible task! This is a topic ready to boil over with opinions, emotions and politics. But the truth is, all horseowners really want are some simple facts. And they deserve that!

We decided to ask professional trimmer Cynthia Niemela to compare some similarities and differences, from her perspective. Cynthia has undergone dual training in two very popular barefoot methods, Strasser Hoofcare and AANHCP, and we understand that she is the first person to ever do so.

As in all subjective topics, this is simply stated from the author’s point of view. We remind readers that no method is set in stone, styles and techniques frequently overlap, evolve and change, and other professionals may have very different opinions on these two methods.

Choosing your Hoofcare Provider:
An Owner’s Outline for Comparing Strasser Method Trimming to AANHCP Trimming (American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners)

by Cynthia Niemela ©2006

So you are thinking about taking your horses barefoot. Maybe it has become difficult to get a farrier in your area. Maybe you have been doing some reading about barefoot, and you think it could be a good idea for your horse. In any case, you want to take good care of your horse and make the best possible decision on its behalf, and there are an awful lot of opinions about barefoot being slung about in print and on the internet. I hope that, in this article, I can give you some help in understanding two of the barefoot approaches on the market today.

As an owner, I was first introduced to barefoot trimming in 2001 by Nancy Filbert, at that time a recent graduate of the first Strasser Trimming Course offered in North America. She recommended that I read Dr Strasser’s “A Lifetime of Soundness,” and “Shoeing, a Necessary Evil?” books, and, with the help of my farrier to learn to use the tools, I began trimming that November. In March, 2002, Nancy came to my house to give me some additional direction, and my farrier told me he was quitting the business in August! I had 5 months to get up to speed with the trimming of 22 horses. I decided that I needed more detailed information about the trimming, so I took the year-long Strasser Course, beginning in 2002, and graduating in 2003.

As a professional trimmer, I have always kept my focus on the continuing usability of the horses that I trim. Over the years, I made changes to my application of the Strasser trim that I found kept my client’s horses more comfortable and moving confidently.

In 2005, I was introduced to the mustang model through a Pete Ramey Clinic. I realized there was a lot of similarity to the trim I was applying at that point, and what he was teaching about the mustang model. I decided to register for the AANHCP course and became an AANHCP Practitioner in Training. I am nearing the end of that training process and plan to finish the certification in early 2007.

I have found that there are many similarities between Strasser Method trimming and trimming to the Mustang Model. Both emphasize the importance of a natural lifestyle, good diet, and plenty of movement. Both emphasize frequency of trimming, a relatively low heel, and hoof mechanism. Both teach that the hoof expands on weight-bearing and fills with blood, and that the blood is expressed when the hoof is lifted off the ground and contracts slightly.

So what are the differences?

During my Strasser training I was taught a set of target angles for the toes and hairlines, and a narrow target range of measurements for the heel height, bar height and depth of collateral grooves. I was taught that the hoof must be taken to those parameters as quickly as possible, in order to stop damage to bone and body that might be happening because of the horse’s existing situation. Sometimes, and particularly with a pathological hoof, this sudden change can only be supported on a rubber clinic floor, or with continuous booting. Sometimes this will result in soreness that is considered a consequence of the rehabilitation of the foot.

With this approach, the horse is treated as a patient, and there is often a period where riding is not recommended, and frequent hand-walking is required to keep the horse moving, unless the horse is in a large enough area, and healthy enough, so that it will move itself. The eventual achievement of a sound horse whose hooves fall within the specified angles and measurements is the goal. This approach has been used on a number of horses with severe pathologies in clinical settings and Strasser trimmers generally report good results in those situations. Strasser herself will state that modifications to the basic trim should be made to horses that are on pasture or dry lot, and being ridden, so that they will be sound for their intended use.

An AANHCP trimmer is taught to trim with a “Mustang Model” in mind when they are shaping the hoof. There is a major focus on keeping the horse as comfortable as possible during the transition to barefoot, mainly by keeping the heels comfortable and achieving a heel-first landing, and secondarily by supporting the horse’s comfort through the use of hoof boots. The goal is a comfortable horse that is moving confidently and freely. Trimmers keep in mind that while horse hooves are similar, they can vary quite a bit from the model and still be sound. AANHCP trimmers are encouraged to view the horse as always being in transition to a better plane of hoof health, and to try to work with and in support of the horse’s healing process.

Above photos were taken of the exact same horse, about one year apart (Strasser in 2005, AANHCP in 2006), and demonstrate differences in trimming techniques as they were applied to this particular horse. All photos courtesy Cynthia Niemela.

Here is a point by point comparison of some of the major points in approach that each style of trimmer has to offer:

Natural boarding conditions

• The Strasser trimmer should refuse to trim a horse that is not outside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Natural boarding conditions should include room to move as much as 10 miles a day, equine companions in the pen/pasture, exposure to the elements, exposure of the hooves to water, no blanketing, eating from ground level and free access to hay or grass, and water. Natural boarding conditions are considered critical to the success of this approach.

• The AANHCP trimmer will also advise the client that Natural Boarding conditions are best for the horse, but can trim the horse successfully even if it has to spend part of its time in a stall.

Feeding arrangements

• The Strasser approach recommends continuous availability of grass pasture or hay and feeding of oats as the main grain.

• The AANHCP trimmer will also recommend a diet based on grass hay or pasture. They may recommend a grazing muzzle to prevent over consumption of grass and the generalized inflammation that can go along with it. Grain will be recommended only as needed to maintain weight. Sweet feeds will always be discouraged. The AANCHP trimmer’s recommendations will vary considerably, depending on the horse’s health situation and its living arrangements.

Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and pain relievers.

• The AANHCP trimmer will generally work with the veterinarian’s recommendations for drug treatments and relief of pain, whether through conventional or alternative methods. Relief of pain is prioritized because movement is considered so important, and the horse is reluctant to move when it is sore.

• The Strasser Method recommends minimizing conventional anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and pain relievers because they can slow or interfere with the healing process and even have negative repercussions like ulcers and over-use of a damaged area. Homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and chiropractic will be recommended in place of many conventional veterinary treatments. Movement is considered critical to healing and pain relief, so the horse must be hand-walked, even if it is sore.

Trimming sole

• The AANHCP approach is to scrape away the exfoliating sole, and then balance the heels and sole, based on the individual animal’s needs.

• A Strasser trimmer will trim around the frog to trim away sole as far as the dirt line around the frog. The rest of the sole will be beveled to the walls from the dirtline next to the frog.

Trimming bar

• Strasser’s parameters target a bar that ends at the halfway point of the frog, where it blends into the dirt line. The healthy bar will be 1 cm below wall level and 1 cm from the bottom of the crevasse at its own half way point.

• An AANHCP trimmer will generally trim the bar level with the exfoliated sole plane.

Trimming wall

• The famous “Mustang Roll” of the AANHCP trim will bevel the bottom of the wall beginning at the outside edge of the dense “water line” or inner unpigmented wall, and then roll it around smoothly into the outer wall. The thickness of this roll will depend on the thickness of the hoof wall, and the shape of the hoof. The roll will extend from heel to heel.

• The Strasser-trimmed horse will have a hoof wall that is flat with the ground plane, and may be backed up to shorten the toe from the widest point on both sides. The back up of the toe will be vertical, and may go into the white line, or even as far as the sole. There are times that a Strasser trimmer will bevel the wall, but it is considered a temporary corrective procedure, because it is believed that while beveling a wall can tighten up the white line, it can also cause contraction problems.

Angles and measures

• The AANHCP trim aims to minimize abrupt changes to the toe angles and hairline angles, as these can cause soreness. The trimmer is taught that a good barefoot trim may change the angles, and may change the position and orientation of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule over time, and as dictated by the exfoliation of the sole. The foot is expected to eventually stabilize at its own optimal angles, measurements, and coffin bone placement. The eventual coffin bone placement is expected to be near to ground-parallel (some elevation to the back of the coffin bone is acceptable) and high in the hoof capsule.

• A Strasser trim aims at getting the foot as close to the angles considered ideal as fast as possible, because of the assumption that delay will cause further damage. Then the trimmer and the owner must support the horse through any resulting soreness with hand-walking, soaking, holistic alternative health treatments and frequent trimming. Any possible soreness is considered a part of rehabilitation of the foot. The target angles are assumed to put the coffin bone in a ground-parallel position.

Trimming frequency

• Because the Strasser trim aims at getting the foot to the ideal form as fast as possible, the initial trim interval may be as often as two or three times a week. The interval between trims will get longer only as the hoof is able to maintain the hoof shape between trims.

• The AANHCP trimmer is taught that 4 weeks is about the ideal trim interval. At 4 weeks the hoof has had time to respond to the last trim, and has enough growth in place for a re-trim. Some horses will have very good feet with even wear, and the trimmer will be able to extend that trim interval without compromising the hoof health.

Use of boots

• The AANHCP trimmer is taught to use booting systems to help keep the horse comfortable and the owner riding as much as possible, while the horse transitions to a healthy barefoot hoof.

• The Strasser trimmer is taught to use boots to support the horse’s healing, but to not use booting to help keep the owner riding a horse that is still rehabilitating or transitioning.

After consideration of these points, the horse owner is left with the same situation that has always existed when choosing any service provider for their horse. As with choosing a farrier or vet, meet the prospective trimmer. Ask them for references, and check those references out. Watch them trim some of their other client’s horses. If their current clients are happy with their work, you will probably be happy, too. If the trimmer you are considering is new to the business, you will have to be more aware of what you want the trimmer to accomplish for you, and more knowledgeable about the approach the trimmer uses. If the trimmer (or vet or farrier for that matter) is new to the business, they are on an uphill learning curve, too, and they are learning on your horse.

Or, you may find yourself in the same position that I did; no trimmer in your area, and, really, no idea how to get started. In that case, contact a trimmer from one of the possible resources and have a long talk with them. Many trimmers are willing to do some long-distance mentoring of people in your position. Pay them to come out for an initial consult, and then pay them to continue to consult with you by phone and e-mail while you are learning to trim your own horses. I was 45 years old, out of shape and overweight when I started on this path. It was not the second career that I was expecting. The rewards of learning to trim my own horses, and then going out to trim for others, have been fantastic.

About the author: Cynthia Niemela’s equine education background includes BS Animal Science from Univ. of Minnesota, 4-H Horse Show Judge and Clinician, CHA Certified Riding Instructor, Strasser Hoofcare Course Graduate 2003, and in 2006, AANHCP Practitioner in Training.

This article was printed in issue 25 of The Horse's Hoof Magazine. To order your subscription, please visit The Horse's Hoof Store

©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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