Thoughts on trimming
'What kind of trim do you do?'
One often hears the question: 'What kind of trim do you do?'
The answer has to be: it depends!
In hoof trimming, there is no such thing as 'one size fits all'. Each trim has to be adapted to each individual horse, taking into account such things as:
- possible hoof and health problems of the horse
- gaits of the horse, possible lameness, deviations (stumbling, plaiting, striking into itself etc.)
- (im)balances in hoof wear, joints, bone structure etcetera
- Conformational and posture deviations
- living conditions of the horse
- what the horse is used for, on what surfaces, how often
- wishes and priorities of the owner/rider
- etcetera, etcetera...
So even in the same horse the trim might be different from visit to visit, during different times of the year, or even slightly different in each hoof.
The goal is always to have the whole horse functioning as well as possible. For example: if one hoof is higher than the other, that might not (yet) be a problem for the hooves - but it will definitely be a problem for the rest of the horse in the long run! One higher hoof could be creating joint problems, shoulder problems, difficulties in taking the correct canter and so on.
There are some things worth aiming for in every trim:
- hoof mechanism
- an (approximately) surface parallel coffin bone
- no deterioration: the hooves should not get worse over time.
This last aspect is very important. Hoof problems often develop slowly, and it can take years before the damage becomes noticeable.
Almost everybody can trim a horse once or twice without problems showing up. Experience shows that problems with less than adequate hoof care usually start showing up after a year or two (often in the form of continuous, white line disease, never ending separations, thrush etc.). Problems like hoof cracks can develop much quicker, sometimes even in just weeks.
At this point many unskilled hoof trimmers run out of solutions and will say things like 'this horse is genetically unable to go barefoot', 'this horse suffers from microbes/bacteria/fungus', or 'the hoof just wants to be this way'. The problem, however, lies in in an incorrect trim.
What to look for in a barefoot trimmer
In many countries hoof care is not regulated; 'everybody' can call themselves a farrier, or a barefoot trimmer. And many people do - often with very little training or schooling. (And no, taking a weekend course or reading a book is not enough!) Some tips on finding and evaluating a hoof care professional:
- Training/education is usually a good sign. It means at least that this person is willing to make an effort. Ask what kind of education they have, where, how long it was and what it taught them.
- If a student is not finished with their schooling, ask how far they have come. Some educations do not allow students to work for customers before they have at least a year of experience - others encourage students to take on customers after three days' training...
- Experience helps. Barefoot trimming is a relatively new field, so there are not many barefoot trimmers with decades of experience. But some years of experience is certainly helpful.
- Ask for references. Preferably from customers that they have had over a longer period of time (remember, 'everybody' can trim a horse a few times without problems - it's in the long run that problems will show up). It's great if they have customers that have the same kind of horses/riding style/living conditions that you have, so you can really compare experiences.
- Just like any other professional, a hoofcare professional should behave like a professional: keep appointments, show up on time etc.
- If you have a horse with serious problems: is the hoofcare professional able to come as often as necessary?
- A hoofcare professional should be able to clearly answer your questions. Not only about hoof problems, but also about what progress to expect, what to do and not to do, and so on.
- Your toilet will not mind if your plumber yells at it - but your horse does not like being hit, being kicked or being yelled at. A hoofcare professional should act polite towards both humans and horses.
- A good hoofcare professional will happily work together with other health care providers, such as veterinarians, to get the best result for your horse.
The risk of uneducated hoofcare...
The pictures below show a 14 year old Icelandic horse. After the horse got its second laminitis attack in two years, the owner in desperation called an uneducated barefoot trimmer.
The trimmer took off the shoes and removed most of the wall in the front feet, so the horse was standing mainly on the soles. The owner was advised to use the horse as much as possible, preferably on asfalt (!). The trimmer also tried to drill holes in the hooves with an electrical drill (out in pasture, with no veterinarian present or even consulted). At that point the horse bolted in panic and ran for a long distance.
After this episode the owner decided to call in a veterinarian and an educated hoof trimmer. The horse was very sore: probably a combination of the laminitis itself, the deshoeing and an incorrect trim.
A treatment plan was set up, including X-rays, adapted surfaces (softer ground/rubber mats), regular trims (as far as any trimming was possible to begin with) and adjusted feeding. The X-rays show a distinct rotation and separation of the coffin bone in both front hooves, so this will be a lengthy rehabilitation. The horse is currently (a month later) comfortable, trotting and cantering in pasture and moving fairly well on harder surfaces (but can of course not be ridden yet).
Note: There are some laminitis strategies that involve removing part of the hoof wall or using other methods (holes, acupuncture needles, leeches) to reduce the pressure inside the hoof capsule. Removal of part(s) of the hoof wall is sometimes also used in case of hoof cracks, separations etc.
There are varying opinions on how useful this is. However, as soon as living tissue is involved any such procedure should only be done by a veterinarian and/or under veterinary supervision. To do otherwise is not only animal abuse, it is illegal!
Wall in front hooves crudely removed. Horse standing on sole. (July 2008)
Right front Left front
Right hind Left hind
How to keep your hoofcare professional happy
It is not easy finding a good barefoot trimmer, and most good ones have more than enough to do. If you - and your horses - are happy with the one you have, here are some tips on how to keep her or him coming to your stable:
- Train your horse to lift its feet and to stand quietly while trimmed. Hoof trimming is hard and dangerous work anyway. Many barefoot trimmers will refuse to work with horses that are behaving badly, because it is too much of a risk - both for the trimmer and for the horse itself, which might get cut. Some barefoot trimmers will do such horses, but you can expect a hefty bill for their extra work and time.
- Provide decent working conditions: a level non-slippery surface to work on and good lighting. This will also make it a lot easier for the barefoot trimmer to do a good trim!
- Especially in periods with no rain (or in dry climates), hooves can get as hard as concrete. Many barefoot trimmers request that under such conditions hooves are soaked in water for at least one or two hours. Otherwise it will be almost impossible to do a correct trim, and the risk of cutting the horse is much greater.
- Be realistic in your expectations, especially if you have a horse with serious hoof problems. There are no 'instant solutions'. A hoof grows about 1 cm per month. Therefore many problems will take some time to heal.
- Even the best trimmer can only do so much: it is your responsibility as the horse owner to provide the conditions for a healthy horse (natural living conditions, company, good surfaces and enough exercise).
See 'Taking hoof pictures' for helpful hints.
Cadaver hoof before...
... and after trimming