Wandering around a farrier's supply store, whether in person or online, can be a little boggling. You really just need nippers, a hoof knife, and a rasp... but which ones?
First and foremost, be prepared to spend some money on your tools. Whether you plan to be a professional barefoot trimmer, or you're just trimming your own horse, good tools will make the job easier, and will last much longer. That said, not all good quality tools are more expensive than the others.
Ultimately, you'll fill your kit with a lot of things that you use occasionally: shoe pulling tools, boot modification tools, measuring tools, etc. But good nippers, knife and rasp are the essentials.
I have a dozen different hoof knives (what can I say...I like knives!) Among them are a couple of custom hand-made knives that cost upwards of $150. But my favorite knife is a simple, sturdy loop blade that retails for around $30. A loop knife is essentially a right- and a left-handed blade in one knife. I find this much easier to use than having to switch knives constantly between left and right. The size of the loop is important. For an average size hoof, you'll want a smaller loop; for draft feet, a larger loop.
A beautiful custom loop blade with hoof pick (top), and (bottom) my favorite $30 loop blade.
The hoof pick feature is nice, but it prevents me from using my opposite thumb to push the blade.
The custom knife (right) also has a much larger blade than the $30 loop (left).
The custom knife, while it holds a beautiful edge, is too large for the average size foot.
I use the $30 knife for all but the largest draft feet.
I started out with a really inexpensive pair of nippers, and they made my life miserable. If you want to save money, better to skimp on your knife and rasp, and not your nippers.
Nippers come in many shapes and sizes. Handle lengths range from 12 to 15 inches. The longer the handles, the more leverage you'll have for getting through thick, tough walls. But on smaller horses and ponies, long handles make things difficult. I use a pair of high quality 14" nippers for most horses, but I also carry an inexpensive pair of 12" racetrack nippers for the little guys.
Racetrack nippers have a narrower blade, which some trimmers find easier to use. Then there are half round nippers, which have a round, instead of straight, blade. Half rounds are handy for getting at hard to reach areas, and are useful for things like hoof wall resections, prying out exfoliating sole, or taking down excessive bars.
You can purchase nipper springs to use your nippers one-handed. This can be a useful tool for trimming squirrelly horses. If you have small hands, you'll probably find you can only use the 12 inch nippers with the nipper spring.
I carry a pair of high-quality 14" nippers (right) and a less expensive pair of
12" racetrack nippers for smaller horses.
Rasps vary widely in sharpness and smoothness. Rock hard, arid weather feet will require a sharper rasp, while wet weather feet will require a smoother rasp with less bite. A standard rasp measures 14 inches in length, but 17 and 18 inch rasps are available for trimming draft feet. An excellent all around choice is the Save Edge rasp.
Keep all of your tools clean and covered to protect them from rust and dust. You can simply keep your rasp in the cardboard sleeve it came in. Good quality rasps will usually come in a plastic cover, which can be reused. I wrap these plastic sleeves in duct tape for a little extra durability, and they work great. Knives don't usually come with a sleeve or cover, but keeping them wrapped in a towel or a piece of suede will do the trick.
Reinforcing the sleeves your nippers and rasps come in with duct tape creates
an inexpensive, long lasting cover to protect your investment.