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Early Trimming Leads to Sounder Hooves for a Lifetime

Healthy hoof
  Trimming foals and weanlings is an too-often overlooked part of caring for horses, yet could make THE biggest impact on the future soundness of the horse as an adult. Starting when the foal is young not only helps prevent poor hoof health, but starts them down the road to cooperating for farriers for the rest of their lives. The foal grows very fast the first year of life, and this is when his structures are laying down their permanent foundations. In fact, the best thing for a foal to experience is turnout on a rocky pasture among other horses to interact with. This teaches them social skills and promotes good coordination and tough, sound hooves.
   Generally, the foals need more balancing between the toe and heels more than from side to side. It may only take a few strokes with a rasp, but is well worth the effort and any money invested. Many times your farrier will do it cheaper with the trim of the broodmare, to promote a healthy, trained foal. The farrier needs to make sure the heels are low enough to develop the digital cushion and cartilage in the hoof. Lack of development will cause more lameness than anything else in the adult horse. If the cartilage and digital cushion is not built up at an early stage, it's permanently weaker, allowing for more tenderness which promotes a toe first landing, that could lead to navicular issues. So, it's much easier to have the farrier rasp a little every few weeks and turn that foal out to romp than to "fix" problems later.  And FYI, even you don't plan to keep them barefoot forever, keeping the shoes off a horse until after age 4 can prevent many problems as well. Shoes restrict the growth of the foot and could cause a permanently smaller coffin bone. If you've ever heard of the Asian women binding their feet to keep them small and dainty, then you know what I'm describing.
   Also, fixing limb deviations is easier in the first year of life than later, and after a certain point, can't be fixed at all. Trying to straighten a crooked leg on a mature horse will only cause joint problems such as arthritis and shorten the usability of the horse.
   Trimming the foal so he can use the back of his foot and develop it, also helps him become more sure footed. His hoof circulation will be better, but there are also nerve endings to be developed in the frog that helps the horse feel where his feet are and adjust his stride. Having tall heels or shoes that take the frog off the ground will not stimulate this part of his foot, and stumbling may be more common (not to mention the foot being out of balance makes it harder to avoid stumbling anyways).
    Exercise, again, is very important. Each step stimulates growth of nerves, tissues and blood supply. The foal learns to handle his own body better now, and will be more coordinated with a rider in the future. Social skills learned in the herd, no matter how small, will help him understand training in the future.
    With foals and weanlings, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth more than a pound of cure. I never did understand why breeders would skimp on taking care of the foals, since a foal with more correct looking legs and sounder hooves will do more to promote the usefulness of the breed, and sell for more than a neglected one, but I guess like most things, it becomes a business and bottom lines become more important than the individuals.  If you're reading this, you probably are looking for more than just a bottom line.
    Just remember that foals need care, too, and a small pen with soft dirt and shavings is no place to grow a healthy, sound horse. Let them out. If they learn about fences when they are young, they won't have to learn the hard way when they are older and can do more damage. Have their feet checked every couple of months, and just enjoy the antics of a healthy, sure footed colt.
Unhealthy yearling hoof
healthy hoof

Compare the three pictures on this page. All three horses are about the same age.

  • Picture 1, at the very top of this page, is of a yearling that has had several trims in her life. This is BEFORE a routine trim and her foot is still pretty balanced.  She also stands very well for trimming with excellent manners.    

  • Now, compare to Picture 2, of a yearling that has not been properly trimmed before. Note the excess height and how the hoof turns out. This horse had locking stifles that went away in 3 trims-3 TRIMS! Do you think hoof trimming doesn't change how the rest of the horse moves?               

  • Picture 3 is of a yearling that had not been trimmed until 4 weeks before this picture. This is before the second trim of his life, which he objected to strongly for several more trims. What this picture doesn't show is the thrush that was already setting in, thanks to living in stall and muddy pen his whole life. So the hoof "looks pretty good" but underneath is a whold different story. If you never picked up this foot, you would think it looks healthy.