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June 2008: Identify a good trim

Sole view of hoof with mild contracted heels

  This month I'd like to discuss knowing what to look for in a trim. This seems especially pertinent since I'm on maternity leave with various farriers and trimmers working for my clients temporarily.

   First, what you want to see is a hoof that looks balanced when you pick it up and look at the sole. Staring at it from your normal perspective of it resting on the ground doesn't give you enough information. Pick up the hoof. Is the wall a consistent 1/8th or 1/16th of an inch tall all the way around the foot? If not, ask the trimmer/farrier why. He/she may have a good reason, but should be willing to explain and not be defensive in his explanation. It's your horse, you have a right to know what's going on.

     Has the sole been pared out or left intact to protect the coffin bone? Unless your horse is an extreme case (just out of shoes, long overdue for a trim or foundered) very rarely would the sole need any trimming of any kind. In fact, trimming the sole, even just barely, can make your horse much more tender on rocks and reverse any "toughening up" he may have already achieved. Also, you can't CUT a concave sole into a foot. Sole has to be allowed to build up and pack into dense callouses that will mold to the natural concave shape of the coffin bone. Cutting it away actually removes support and allows the coffin bone to "drop" which flattens the sole.  Now, assess the hoof on the ground. The wall should not be rasped excessivly thin, or higher than the lower third of the hoof wall. Too much rasping will remove the structural integrity of the wall and may cause problems down the road. Most rasping of the wall from this angle is cosmetic anyway. 

  In your hand again, how does the frog look? Trimming off flaps of dead frog is fine, but actual frog trimming should not be done during a maitenance trim. The frog is your primary shock absorber and cutting it out is like removing the cushion in your sneakers, right under the pressure points of your foot. Plus, trimming what isn't already coming off will invite thrush and other infections. There is a time to cut frog material, but not as part of a routine trim.

The bars should appear to be the same height as the wall or shorter. If they are left too long, they can cause pressure points at the heel and make it sensitive. Usually, the bars take care of themselves.

When the foot is on the ground, does it appear somewhat symmetrical? No hoof is perfectly symmetrical, but the trim shouldn't be long on one side and short elsewhere. It should look consistent all the way around. Don't focus too much on specific angles-horses don't fit into cookie cutters, so if the trim seemed right from the bottom, it's more likely to fit the horses needs than if matched to "52 degrees slope".  However, the hoof should not appear to be "stilts" that are just super tall, (the hairline should not be horizontal when viewed from the side) nor should the toe cause a broken back axis in the pastern. Some horses do toe out or in naturally, and this can be determined by holding the leg up to see how the foot hangs in relation to this. If your straight legged horse begins to toe out, the trim needs to be adjusted. However, do not expect a farrier to "fix" a horse that naturally toes in or out. To straighten them out artifically will cause lameness down the road as it stresses joints.

     The walls should have a nice bevel, or "roll" to the bottom edges. This can vary, it's more subtle in thin walled horses, steeper in thick walled hooves. This roll should go almost all the way around the entire foot, not just the toe, tapering off at the heels. The foot shouldn't appear boxy or have corners at the toe. Flares should be rasped at a steeper angle than normal wall, but this just makes the foot appear more symmetrical overall and should not go through the entire thickness of the wall at any point.

     When your horse walks away, he should be landing flat footed or ideally, heel first. The trimmer should check for this and to make sure the limbs don't deviate in flight to strike the other legs and make any necessary adjustments. If your horse isn't landing on his heels, either his hoof is imbalanced or there is pain somewhere. It's not always in the hooves. Shoulder, hips and back troubles can cause the horse to move in such a way as to not land properly on his hooves, but this should be ruled out and treated by your vet, chiropractor or massage therapist as a team with your farrier.

These are just the basic points to watch for. Remember, no farrier should get defensive if you tactfully ask why he did something a certain way. He/she works for you and your horse. He/she should know more about it than the average horse owner and be willing to explain specific issues. He/she should also point out any issues noticed, such as thrush as the trim was done. You, as the owner, should tell him/her if you had any questions or noticed any unusual lameness between visits. Keeping your farrier informed helps him/her determine what  needs to be done with your horse. Don't just expect him to notice subtle problems. You are around your horse every day, your farrier is only there every few weeks.

Hoof with excess heel height and long toe