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HOOF CARE & TRIMMING -NAVIGATING HOOF CARE EDUCATION AND HELPING HORSES TO TRIM THEIR OWN HOOVES.

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 for free?

Showing a feral horses hoof never touched by a human hand yet naturally trimmed to perfectionWhat 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.

A small selection of hoof care as part of my studiesNow 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 tree.

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 university research.

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?

A band of feral horsesSo much so that buzz words have been invented such as “mustang roll” and “wild hoof” trim etc. To adhere us to that natural hoof model.

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 anyway.

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 grass/sugar/starch intake
  • 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?

Showing us installimg some pit metal to form a hard track for self hoof trimmingFirstly, 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.

A wild zebras naturally trimmed hoovesNow 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 results.

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.