Hoofcare is vitally important for maintaing the structure and function of all feet. Even a strong foot will not remain strong if hoofcare is neglected. A weak foot has virtually no room for trimming error and may need attention more than once per week until internal strength has been restored. Diet alone is not sufficient.
It is beyond the scope of this website to convey hoofcare and trimming guidelines for the novice trimmer or farrier. Most countries now have accredited educational facilities that offer excellent courses with practical hands-on supervision and a formal qualification upon completion.
The intent of the information below is to provide suggestions to experienced trimmers on how to make a horse comfortable during the transition process from shoes to barefoot. As indicated by Prof Bowker, movement is essential for the development of a strong foot but the horse must be comfortable enough to want to move. Forcing a sore-footed horse to move is both cruel and unethical. Movement does not have to involve fast or extended exercise, just free pottering about a paddock with companions is sufficient for most horses, especially if the horse is not confined to a stable or small yard at any point.
The use of boots and pads is recommended as the softness of the pad against the sole and frog provides comfort, and also the necessary tactile stimulation of nerve endings in the frog that initiates development of stronger internal structures, ie digital cushion and lateral cartilages. In practical reality, many horses cannot tolerate boots all-day every-day either because a good fit cannot be achieved, thrush infections are uncontolled in the enclosed environment of the boot, or heels have rubbed. Casting can help some horses but is also not ideal.
The first set of photos below demonstrates a normal maintenance trim for a healthy, strong hoof. The horse is able to weight-bear comfortably on the sole and frog so the hoof wall is trimmed to the level of the sole all the way around, and then the outer edge bevelled. The concavity of the sole is naturally formed by the bone being sited high up inside the hoof capsule, securely held there by a tight laminar connection and strong digital cushion and lateral cartilages.
The second set of photos demonstrates how to leave a small amount of hoof wall height at the heels and pillars. Although only 2mm to 3mm at most, this small amount of wall makes an extraordinary difference to the comfort of the horse, and therefore willingness to move. It is usually only necessary for a few months while diet change is allowing the growth of a thicker sole and tighter laminar connection. This temporarily modified trim is epecially useful for large, heavy horses whose sheer weight is a challenge in transitioning from shoes to barefoot.
TRIM FOR A STRONG FOOT
Lateral and sole views, five weeks since previous trim
The hoof wall is trimmed with rasp and/or nippers to level with the sole, including any callousing.
The heels are trimmed back as far as possible, to the widest part of the frog at the frog/heel junction, if necessary slightly below frog level to achieve a vertical standing posture of the forelegs.
The outer pigmented hoof wall is then bevelled all around, more steeply at the toe to ensure early breakover.
From above, the rasp is used vertically to trim any flaring from the quarters and toe, just exposing the unpigmented part of the inner hoof wall.
The upper and lower rasped edges can be smoothed off with the finer side of the rasp to create a rounded edge.
Horses working in muddy or other slippery conditions may benefit from a sharper edge being left to the bevelled toe.
This strong foot has a thick sole and natural concavity.
The sole and frog have not been trimmed.
The finished trim.
The heels are fully loadbearing, directly beneath the centre of the canon bone when in a standing posture.
The toe is trimmed back to ensure breakover is as early as possible.
TEMPORARY TRIM FOR A WEAK FOOT
Solid red line denotes area of hoof wall to be left slightly longer:
Pillars which are on either side of the toe at approximately the 10 o'clock & 2 o'clock position.
Broken green line denotes approximate trim line which slopes down from the heel buttresses to sole level at the quarters, then slopes up to the pillars and finally slopes down again to the toe.
The hoof wall is trimmed with rasp and/or nippers to level with the calloused sole at the quarters and toe, but the heels and pillars are left with 2mm to 3mm of height.
The heels are trimmed back as far as possible, to the widest part of the frog at the frog/heel junction.
The outer pigmented hoof wall is then bevelled all around to the point where the unpigmented inner hoof wall is just visible, but more steeply at the toe to ensure early breakover.
The extra 2mm to 3mm of height left at the heels and pillars creates a functional concavity that mimicks the natural concavity of a strong foot - but without having to invade an already too-thin sole.
The finished trim for a weak foot is virtually identical to the finished trim for a strong foot as shown above, but the artificial concavity created by the extra height at the heels and pillars gives a sore-footed horse comfort. When comfortable, the horse will be able to load and use his feet in a manner that will generate development of the internal soft tissues necessary for a strong foot, ie digital cushion and lateral cartilages.