After many years of rehabbing rescue horses to go barefoot
with pretty much every hoof issue known, and the support and talent of our
fantastic barefoot trimmer, finally earlier last year I started trimming some
of my own horse’s hooves. One thing that struck me from the first trim is why
do we work so hard to do what nature will do for us for very little effort and
What I mean by this is that we know horses living in wild
environments who self-trim their own hooves , without ever being handled in
their lifetime let alone being trimmed every month, or 6 weeks etc……so surely
we have to ask why are we doing all this back breaking work trimming hooves when
if we set things up correctly in the horses environment and lifestyle that the
horse would trim his own hooves, and also do a very good job of it that suited
his unique set of circumstances/physique /terrain and the going too.
This had me thinking about how we can set our horses up to be
trim free and I’ve made it my goal towards my own horse’s hoof care for 2019?
Despite already having a good knowledge of the hoof, as part
of my new hands on approach, I was now looking at the whole structure of equine
locomotion in so much more detail, and I wanted to know as much as I could
about the structure and function of the hoof in every facet, especially with a
view on how I could genuinely mimic nature’s own trim. Therefore, my thirst for
knowledge in this area increased exponentially.
Now my friends always jest at how
intense I get when I’m in research mode, as I really do genuinely enjoy the learning experience of structured
research. So as usual I became obsessed, studying both our herds feet along
with the hooves of many of our client’s horses too, in addition to the hooves
of horses living wild, as well as reading as much as possible about hooves with
voracity. I devoured everything I could find on the hoof and barefoot trimming,
along with the various methods, approaches and schools of thought. I watched
hundreds of hours of videos, signed up for courses and seminars, and drove
everyone completely mad by asking endless questions and persistently pestered
those with “expert” knowledge in this area too. I spoke to many hoof “gurus”
and hoof care “experts” all the way to the top of the international hoof care
Unfortunately, this experience was persistently peppered
with many lows as well as the highs of knowledge that came with this study, and
so much of what I found has sadly been incredibly disappointing for a multiple
of reasons. The biggest worry for me was that it seemed like a rarity for anyone
to agree on what IS the best way to trim a horse’s hooves. With none of the
barefoot movement being supported by any type of internationally recognized/merited
peer reviewed qualifications, and all training taking part in a self-appointed way,
there are no standards to be guided by or internationally recognized associations
to set much needed standards, let alone and industry agreements on what is
required for a correct trim, which left me with grave concerns for some horses
being barefoot trimmed as I have seen the damage done by some trimmers as well
as great feats in the rehabbing of hooves too so it is a double edged sword.
With so much conflict and many differences between hoof methods,
styles and approaches, along with a cult-type following of some so called
“experts”, it’s been hard to ascertain facts, and which opinion is beneficial
for the horse and which is not. Add to that the discord found between some
barefoot and metal shoe advocates and it’s easy to see why so many give up and
pay someone else to trim, as it becomes a topic fraught with pitfalls that
takes a lot of navigating to get right.
Unfortunately, even with my drive for answers it didn’t take
long before I became weary of trying to make sense of all this conflicting info
too, and I certainly didn’t want to be trimming my horse’s hooves on cultism’s,
opinions and anecdotes as part of my hoof trimming education. Instead, I was
looking for facts and science to help me improve and understand on how to trim
to the best of my ability, as my horses deserve.
Feeling frustrated, I continued my search at a more academic
level, and I headed to the various equine based veterinary universities, and
attended online lectures, and again read as much as I could from a referenced
research standpoint, to see what the scientific community could show me about
barefoot horses but sadly I found that the majority of campuses were stuck in
the dark ages of tradition, with metal shoes readily advised as often as the
only option, and that barefoot was mostly discredited as a “hippy” alternative approach
to hoof care, which was disappointing to say the least. Plus, what I found from
some of the science-based hoof care communities still has my blood boiling, as
not ever will I agree with inducing a healthy horse to develop laminitis to
study them! Which pretty much alienated me from that camp too once I expressed
my opposition to them about animal suffering and then being euthanized for
However, I am a scientist and I do work on facts, so I was
still wondering where I could find the info to help me have a more
comprehensive understanding of the hoof?
And as always, after exploring the human ideals it was to
the horses themselves that I looked for these answers ...
So, I watched and studied feral herds, along with our herd and
many others in a non-invasive way.
In just a few weeks into this horse driven approach it
suddenly hit me like a Mack truck.
The ground is the trimmer!
Well Doh - I hear you say - lol :) and I agree as I felt a
bit dense for not having this obvious moment sooner but as always there is way
more to it.
After all isn’t it the naturally occurring self-trimming
hooves of feral herds living wild throughout the world what we are all trying
to mimic with our barefoot hoof care?
So much so that buzz words have been invented such as
“mustang roll” and “wild hoof” trim etc. To adhere us to that natural hoof
But the problems presented for the bulk of horse owners is
that most domestic horses are not on suitable ground nor are they able to cover
the mileage of a wide variety of terrain to genuinely self-trim their own
hooves, as well as they are subjected to a junk food diet of "amplified"
grass strains often better suited to dairy, in paddocks that don’t offer the
incentive to move to forage, which is a diet way too high in sugars for most
equines, and doesn’t encourage the development of a truly healthy rock
crunching hoof.... well not without a lot of help from their human carers
However, despite these domestic challenges I was still confident that a lot of our approach was already working very well, as we were already ticking a lot of the boxes
to healthy barefoot horses and had seen the benefits over many years from
implementing the following:
- Providing a species appropriate diet and lifestyle
- Tracked grazing to encourage additional movement and balance
- Providing a variety of surfaces to mimic different terrains
- Balanced supplements to support general well-being, improve
keratin growth and the development of strong hooves
- Providing a daily Mycotoxin binder to protect central
nervous system damage caused by grass toxins
- Having all our horses barefoot to improve hoof function and
circulation with hoof boots for those who needed them
With the above approach some of our horses are already self-trimming
and just needed a yearly tidy up trim to keep things ticking over, and I felt because
of this, to coin a phrase, that we were on the right track. The questions remained
however, as to what more could we do to help those horses who still needed to
be trimmed to self-trim, and how could we further mimic what the ground would
do to a feral hoof?
As always, the horses themselves answered the questions
others within the industry couldn’t agree up on.
Which our herd showed us is to only trim the hoof like you
were the ground and to provide hard ground that will act to file the hooves of our
herd for multiple daily use. Even if just around your water trough and high use
areas for example this can still have an impact of hoof care.
So, what does all this mean?
Firstly, it means that we need to provide some form of
hard/rough/abrasive terrain that will act as a file that the horse will walk on
many times per day. Secondly, we need to trim to mimic what the ground would
naturally take from your horses’ hooves, and only that. No less and no more.
This can be achieved by adding some large round stones
around your horses’ troughs and by installing some hard standings anywhere your
horse traverses on a frequent basis. That could be in a gateway he has to go
through or somewhere he eats his hay from, or where he walks on a track ….and here
in New Zealand this can be done for as little as $25 for a tonne of local aggregates
plus delivery. These larger stones are not designed to only to trim the flat
hoof but to also help with the lateral movement, effectively trimming the areas
at the sides of the hoof as well as aiding in shaping the hoof too. We have
also seen this to condition and strengthen muscles that support the whole hoof
structures with these stones which can stimulate the circulation through acting
to massage the frog, so it’s well worth the investment.
As for mimicking the trim as that of what the ground will
take from the hoof, these are points to consider....
- The ground is way less invasive than a pair of nippers
- The ground isn’t as aggressive as a knife
- Your horses’ hooves do not need to look like the polished perfection
of a barefoot trim as messy hooves can still be incredibly functional hooves
too, though cracking is not desirable.
- The ground doesn’t take away parts of the hoof for ascetic
purposes such as the bars, which it only files away if needed
- The ground does not remove sole unless it needs it
- The ground only takes excess skin off the frog if required
- The ground shapes the horse’s hoof to a shape that will
benefit the horse’s size, weight, the going and unique terrain where s/he
resides. For example, horses living in predominantly sandy terrains have
different shaped hooves to horses who live on stone. And large drafts have quite
different shapes and structures than say Arabs, due to different weights and therefore
different movements of each individual breed.
Now I’m certainly not the first person to come to these
conclusions and do not claim to be. Our research is still ongoing but I am happy
enough with my findings to share them if only to give you some food for thought
along with some paddock ideas to ignite your self-trimming ideas.
The good news is that I am seeing many horses and their
owners benefiting from implementing these ideas, so I can highly recommend trying
this approach for improved hoof care for your horse, with an aim to self-trimming,
along with a species appropriate lifestyle and diet to achieve the very best
So, with this info in mind, before you pick up the nippers,
next time please ask yourself what the ground would file and shape the hoof,
and with every stroke of the file, how you can mimic that?
We have found that less is the way to go for sure.