Uno Gets a Mega-Trim

During the week before Virginia City 100, in two separate evening sessions, I trimmed and stuck Glue-ons on Uno's front and back feet. It took me about 20 minutes to trim and glue the rears—and an hour and a half to do the fronts. Why? Because I was desperately trying to smoosh Uno's large front feet into a size too small boot.
This was a gradual trap to fall into. Each time I'm trim him, I'd have to take a bit more off until I'd crossed that line from "slight reshaping of hoof to get a nice snug fit" to "complete resculpturing of the foot to get them on" <grrr>. I'd also made a mistake about two weeks previously: during a moment of inattention, I'd trimmed one heel on his right front too short (I have to work really hard to not be over-enthusiastic with my new nippers), so had to even them up.

What a dummy <sigh>. Just what we needed before Uno's first 100. I wasn't terribly surprised when we lost both front glue-ons about 45 miles into the ride. It kind of reminded me of a pair of riding tights I made for myself - I was warned to be sure the calf was good and tight and of course made it too tight. As a result, the stupid things are always slipping down. You want your boots snug, but if they are too small they'll just tend to boing off.
Realising that it was time to take a step-back and that Uno was on break for a month anyway, I let his feet grow out for nearly seven weeks    =8^o   (<-- that's ASCII artwork showing "hair-raising") so I could start again from scratch and see what was really going on.
So here's my attempt at a step-by-step trimming example.
If you're a new trimmer and considering starting to do your horse's feet yourself, I'd recommend not doing it this way. It's way harder to trim a horse with 72"-long feet, than to touch-up an existing un-out-of control foot, so better to get a "Hoof Care Professional" to get the foot where it needs to be and then work from there.

What you will need:
  • A rasp (this is crucial)
  • A hoofpick (I like those ones with the spiky brush on the other side to get the bits off the hoof)
  • A hoof-stand (trying to trim without a hoof-stand is possible, but it's about 50 times harder than with a stand, and much, much harder to do a competent job without becoming demoralised)
  • A hoof knife (I like a narrow-bladed one to get into the nooks and crannies of the frog). 
  • A horse with feet.
In addition, a pair of really good nippers is wonderful. Having said that, for the first year or so, I didn't have nippers and did everything with a rasp. This works fine until you don't get around to trimming someone for many weeks and then have to remove half an inch of hoof wall in the middle of the summer.  Can you say "sweat and biceps"? 

If you're worried about shelling out lots of money buying expensive tools for something you're not sure you're going to be able to manage (and you won't be alone - I was that person once), get the hoof-stand before the nippers. The hoof stand will make your life so much more pleasant and you're more likely to feel like you are capable of trimming your own horse.

Anyway. On with the show. My caveat is that I'm self-taught and this is meant to show how I trim my horses - knowing how they grow, how they move, how much work they're going to be doing, on what kind of terrain, what has/has not worked in the past. I'll probably forget to mention some super-important detail, so please don't follow this as gospel and lame your horses because of it. This is just what I do.  You need to read as much as you can (I highly recommend Pete Ramey as a common sense, non-radical, real-life trimmer), think about what you read, discard things that don't work for you, and experiment to see what does. 

1. Above we see Uno's right front pre-trim at 7 weeks. Euw - bull-nosed toe (I'd rasped and rasped to get it in the stupid boot. Remember - do not try this at home, it works really badly), and very long and spatulate-like.

2. To start with, clean the crud out of the foot, so you can see what's going on. I scrape most of the mud off the outside of the hoofwall, as well as the underside of the foot. Clean out the frog so you really know where the mud ends and the foot starts. Then take a look at what needs to be done. 
In Uno's case, I see is horrendously long heels, overlaid bars, lots of sole, and raggedy-thrushy frog.

3. He was shedding some frog at the front, some of the rear portion had lots of funky flaps and pockets for thrush to hide in, and there were some flaps along the groove, so using my hoof knife I trimmed all the rubbish off. 
My objective with the frog is to leave it as much alone as possible (although you couldn't tell that, looking at this example), but at the same time I'm trying to avoid hidey-holes in which for thrush to develop - so what/how much you cut off becomes a judgement call. If I know the horse is going to be ridden barefoot exclusively so will self-wear (or if the horse hadn't been allowed to grow out for 7 weeks and get completely out of whack) then I'd be much less aggressive in my frog sculpting. What you see here is way more radical than I would normally be comfortable with.
But, yikes, trimming off that frog made his heels look even longer!

4. Another view showing his long heels.

One question that comes up is "how do you know how much foot you can trim off?" My guideline is the seat of the corn (see red arrow) - this is the little corner of sole which sits in the V-shape of the bar/hoof. On a horse with lots of overlaid bar, it can be hard to find sometimes. This is part of the heel area that you're trying to trim down to move to the back of the foot for support. I clean that area out down to proper sole (as opposed to mud or crumbly sole) and that's my limit - I go no deeper than that.

For the rest of the foot, towards the end of summer most of the horses are hiding proper sole under lots of dry, dead, false sole which presents a problem. Do you dig around and take it off, or do you leave it?

Ideally, you want to avoid paring away sole - you're hoping to get that nice barefoot callous going. But in reality, if your horse isn't housed on rough terrain there is usually a time when you need to get the old sole off because it's packed in there (by the end of summer, my horses are living in fluffy dirt in their dry lot - the chances of anything wearing off their feet are slim to none).

So the answer to that question depends on the horse. A few months ago, a friend and I trimmed four horses between us, aggressively removing false sole from all of them. Given how much I'd taken off, I expected mine to be sore but surprisingly they weren't. Of my friend's two horses, one was fine, while the other (trimmed in the same way) could barely walk for about a week.  So the trick is know your horse - and experiment little by little.

When I first started trimming I took very little off. The only thing I used on the sole was my hoof-pick - if the sole didn't come off with that, it could stay there. Now I'm more enthusiastic (did I mention my new nippers?) and have to mentally curb my desire to hack away at the sole. I'm guessing the ideal is somewhere in between the two.

5. Here I've taken my nippers and worked on Uno's overlaid bars. He grows lots of bar and if not kept under control, it starts to flop over onto the sole. I've also trimmed off some of the more upright parts of the bars. On some horses you can do this with a hoof knife. Not Uno, though, he grows bars of steel.

6. Here I've gone a step further. I'm gently poking around on the sole to try and ascertain what's healthy sole and what's junk. Because Uno has been allowed to grow out and because it has been wet here, his feet are very soft and crumbly underneath. In reality, until I get some of the loose sole off, I can't tell what's what, so I'll just scrape away any obvious excess junk sole. If I were to look at his feet again in a week or two, there will probably be more sole to take off, but I'm going to err on the side of caution here and not go bananas this time around.

Again, if Uno was working, if it was drier here, if he was walking on rockier stuff, etc, his soles would be nothing like this - they'd be hard, shiny.

7. Here's my first pass with the nippers. Now the foot is starting to get where I want it.
In the olden days, pre-nippers, I'd have to rasp off all the excess hoofwall, so being able to chomp my way around it is a good thing (provided I am very cautious about not taking off too much heel <grin>).
The red arrow is indicating some bruising that I found under his overlaid bar - if too much of it builds up, it's like a stone in your shoe - not comfy. 
The blue arrow is showing a crease in the sole - this is a slight separation between bar and sole and was initially completely hidden by the overlaid bar. Some crud has got in there. 
His hoofwalls are nice and thick, although there's some separation along the white line on the inside quarter (the black stuff along the edge of the hoof below/left of the red arrow). The longer the hoof, the worse this can become - the hoof is being bent away from the foot and stretched. This will result in the horse getting ouchy, unwanted crud working its way into the resulting groove, and your horses feet never improving. So the goal is to keep the feet nice and short to avoid this happening.
One area that is fairly sacred is the toe-callous - it's the area of sole closest to the toe, between the end of the frog and the front of the hoof. You want good, thick sole there to protect the front edge of the coffin bone on your barefoot horse, so always consider carefully if you feel the need to take anything off that area. Often I'll leave it completely alone. Here, however, I've been quite aggressive because I know Uno is long and grows lots and lots of toe. But this would be an area for caution on a horse you don't know.

8. Once I've gotten this far, I switch out the cradle on my stand for the rubber stopper and work the hoof from the top. In the old days, pre-nippers, I would do most of my work from the top - it's easier to take off extra hoofwall working from the top than the bottom, so if you're nipper-less consider that.

This is also the point you would be looking for any flare on the hoofwall and removing it. In Uno's case, there isn't much flare on his fronts, so I'll have to wait for another example to show that.

To start, I took off a bunch of that nice thick toe - good to have it as protection, but not so good in terms of faster breakover and strain on the tendons - I like my toes really short. Another consideration is that having short toes, especially on a toe-y horse like Uno, you're far more likely to have success keeping your boots on than if you have long toes.
Uno still had globs of Adhere Glue (the black stuff) stuck to his hoof walls from his Glue-ons at Virginia City, so I chiselled that off a little, and worked my way around the bottom edge of the hoof, bevelling it slightly.

9. And this is what it looks like on the underside now - much less toe and hoofwall, and no sharp edges to snag hoofwall. And bravo, Lucy - you have resisted hacking away at the still-too-long-heels in favour of a slightly more finessed rasp-approach – still to come.

Looking at this photo, it's a pretty radical trim and not what I would do on a horse that didn't grow as much foot as Uno. Again, it's a case of knowing your horse and knowing his characteristics. I will try to take a photo in a week or so to compare with this to show how much he grows.

10. One thing that is worrying me at this stage is how deep a groove he has (where my index finger is pointing). I don't know if this is because he has excess sole still to shed, or if I need to trim more off. For now, I'm not doing more, but will watch this to see what happens. He's very flat-footed - I seldom see much concavity in his feet - and even less right now. Again, how much of this is a product of letting him get so long?

11. Here we're much closer to being finished. I'm working from the underside again.

Holding the leg by the fetlock, let the hoof flop vertical and sight down the foot. What you're looking for is any unbalance from side to side. Is one heel higher than the other? do you have a bulge of foot somewhere that needs to be taken down? When the foot lands, will it have a nicely-balance platform?

I've taken a rasp and rolled the entire outside edge, filed down the heels, and have paid special attention to that separated area on the right in this photo - I don't want the hoofwall there to get snagged on anything, so roll it extra specially. When I think I'm done, I'll run my fingers around the bottom edge to see if I can feel any areas that might get snagged by rough ground and chipped/bent and touch them up into a nicely smoothed bevel with my rasp.

As a final step, if the foot was thrushy, I'll treat it with some magic potion before letting the horse go out to play. My potion of choice is Coppertox, but I know many people feel it's a bit too toxic, you end up with green hands, green horse and green stall, it's stinky, and it's not that cheap. This is an area for research - see what others are using and decide for yourself.

 12. The finished foot, compared to its neighbour... ah, that's better.

For me, figuring out what the foot should look like is a little bit like being able to recognise good conformation in a horse. To begin with it just looks like a horse. Then gradually you start to recognise "well, that horse's back is rather long"... and your mind starts to filter out "horse shape" and see "good/bad conformation horse shape". Same with trimming. Eventually you won't just see "horse foot", you'll start to notice "too much heel", "too much toe", "flare on the outside"... etc.

13. The finished right front foot.

14. The untrimmed left front neighbouring foot. Ack.

Because I let him go so long, I will probably check again in a week or so to see what's happening. That's one of the neat things about doing your own hooves - you can keep poking at them and see what happens.

You know what you're aiming for: short heels, short toes, no flare, minimum chipping, and lack of thrush. By working towards those goals, the feet should eventually turn into what you're hoping for - it might just take a while. But one day you'll look at them and think "Huh, all that [insert whatever hoof problem your horse had] is gone and I didn't even notice". 

If you make a mistake (as I did, over-trimming Uno's heel... and then did exactly the same thing a couple of weeks later with Roop), the foot regrows. Your horse may not be too impressed with you, but so long as you learned from the experience, you can try to avoid repeating it.

In the early days, I would take off much less foot, unwilling to get too carried away, but invariably would look again a few days later and wonder why I thought I had done enough - a fresh eye often shows you things you didn't notice at the time - either in terms of uneveness or just not taking enough off.

This is actually Fergus, who got trimmed next. Patrick bought me this little rolly-stool which I sometimes use for initial foot clean-up. Whilst it helps my back, I would caution the use of one of these - you need to consider your particular horse/trimming situation carefully and make sure you aren't inviting a recipe for being trampled. As an example, I would never use it on a windy day <grin>.

If I know I've got plenty of time to trim the entire horse (sometimes I'll only do the feet two at a time and come back later to do the other two), I usually work my way around the horse, instead of doing both fronts followed by both rears.

My reason for this is that if you do the feet in pairs - both fronts, then both backs - a mysterious force means that the right rear foot will always get done last. Since the right rear foot is the only one that ever does any work, it's usually the one the horse is least comfortable on, so better to get it over and done with earlier on while you're still fresh and can cope with a wriggling horse.

In Uno's case, this time around, I did RF, RR, LR, and LF.

It takes me about an hour to trim each horse - depending on how dirty they are; how long the foot is; how cooperative they feel; how my back feels (this weekend I did three horses and my back was pretty sad by the end - I don't do this for a living. I take lots of breaks to untangle mane, watch the chickens, admire my horses, etc). It also depends how much time I spend staring at the foot to see what needs to be done - Fergus has a wry foot; Roop is toed-in; Jackit grows high heels; Provo grows long curly toes but no heel; Uno just grows and turns into dinner plates; and Hopi, who has the best feet of the whole herd but is the hardest to trim because he's Hopi, gets done too infrequently.

If you poke at the feet more often (once a week? ...much easier to do in the summer when they aren't covered in crud), you'll do yourself a favour and it'll take a lot less time because you're just touching things up not having to do a complete overhaul as I have here.

Oh. And what did I discover at the end of this session? The whole reason I left Uno so long was to discover what size Glove he should actually be wearing - and as suspected he's grown into a size 2 (I put a shell on and then couldn't get it off - always an encouraging sign). Luckily, Fergus wears 1.5s on this back feet, so Uno's front 1.5s can go to F and I'll have to get Uno some 2s. This should really help prevent my recent struggles and help avoid boot-losses. Yay. Mission accomplished.

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