Going barefoot with a natural trim and boots for riding, is not without its twists, turns and bumps in the road. I was a professional trimmer working in Delaware for six years. During that time, I specialized in teaching owners, mostly women, to trim their personal horse(s). I quickly learned that in addition to teaching them to trim, I had to prepare the owners for issues they might face, if transitioning to bare feet were to be successful.
- Chipping of the hoof wall
- Rehabbing cracks, holes and other deformities
- Concerns post-rehab
- Building a strong back-of-foot
1. Expect Criticism.
Former steeplechaser, Big Band Show, “Banjo”, was often described as a hot house flower. But after I pulled his shoes, the debilitating episodes of rain rot and hives and bug bites swelling to the size of my hand all vanished. He was my previous horse and the first I transitioned to bare feet. This proves even a newbie can make a huge difference!
Shoes, whether metal or plastic, nailed or glued, are a short term band aid not a fix.
Soundness: I expect most horses to walk soundly after every trim. If there is any tenderness, I figure out what’s going on. If I did something wrong, I apologize to horse and owner. Then don’t repeat!
2. Soundness. After each trim, your horse should walk soundly.
Most horses walk off from every trim, sound on grass. There are two major exceptions: First, ‘navicular disease or syndrome’. Second, the overly trimmed horse.
This poor shod guy (not my client) has had Back-of-Foot Pain for years. He points first one foot then the other to relieve the pain in the back of his foot. The traditional world calls it ‘navicular syndrome or disease’ but the navicular bone is just an innocent bystander. In fact the coffin bone suffers more damage when he lands toe first. Pull the shoes, therapeutically boot if necessary. Apply the natural trim and treat the frog. This will rehab the back of the foot. Rehab is straight forward. Dr. James Rooney, author of The Lame Horse, clarified the problem and treatment in 1975 and yet 36 years later horses are being put in bar shoes, being wedged every 6 weeks, having their nerves cut and eventually euthanized.
The conventional world calls this navicular syndrome or disease, which in my mind is a misnomer. Back-of-Foot-Pain doesn’t exactly slide off the tongue but that’s what it is. And it is fixable. According to Pete Ramey, his worst case of BFP, when rehabbed, was pasture-sound but needed boots for riding. Not too bad considering all the horses he works on.
There wasn’t a dry eye at the gate.
Now I’d use the Rx Boot as there is more airflow and they are less expensive. I would however replace the quarter inch pad included with a half inch one. If there is no thrush, Equicasts are another option, particularly good for the owner who doesn’t visit daily.
One aspect of correct movement is a flat or heel-first landing at the walk and heel-first landing at other gaits. It’s easy to spot a toe-first landing while walking your horse in sand. The toe kicks the sand up. I would be particularly concerned if I saw routine sole and frog trimming.
If one more person asks me when her horse can go on rocks, I am taking myself out to the back shed! If your horse lives on rocks, he will adapt. If not, BOOT. Horses adapt to what they live on.
Chipping: Thin, shelly racehorse hoof wall with lots of laminitic rings easily cracks. You can grow a well connected hoof (wall to coffin bone) in one hoof growth. But it takes a few capsule growths to get a thick, healthy wall.
Another great Thoroughbred foot. Smooth walls devoid of lamintic rings. Mustang Roll on the ground has replaced the chipping. As for shape, it is definitely a more upright foot. Notice the more cone shaped hind feet. This is the foot the horse wants.
3. After the shoes come off, hoof walls chip.
Abscess: Here an OTTB, Doctor Clayton, has blown out the back of his sole next to the bar with an abscess. Once erupted, he felt great.
4. Some Horses Abscess.
Abscessing can be frightening to an owner. Honestly, during my six year career, I have had only one horse abscess soon after a trim. One of his lateral cartilage looked so laid-over and mushy, that we actually had a vet out to look at him. It took a while but he got himself rearranged.
November. Peanut’s abscess exploded through his laminae creating the black hole of Calcutta. He was never lame on this foot! The owner soaked him weekly in White Lightening to keep the area free of bacteria and fungus. Obviously it was full of dirt most of the time. Do try stuffing the area with cotton balls. This is not white line disease.
December. I left sole and wall in place to provide what little structure he had. The wall was well angled so that it pressed in, rather than away from the horse. Traditionalists would have trimmed wall and sole, even resectioning all disconnected wall. That may have made the area look more attractive but by reducing the structure, Peanut may have gone lame. There was no special bandaging. He never took a bad step and was ridden throughout.
Here’s a pleasant way to soak! Doctor Clayton, “Doc”, former racehorse, is a premier trail horse, as you can see. He is in padded Epics on front. Owner Bette is on board.
As I walked into Garwin’s barn, I thought, “The excised soles are the least of your problems.” Holy Mackeral! Check the flare.
After months of bandaging and stalling, Garwin’s sole slowly repairs itself.We put padded Epics on Garwin and he happily trotted in his pasture. He even trotted down hill on the driveway. Sub solar abscesses will drain and as the underlying “baby” sole develops, the top sole will slough off. No need for surgery.
Owner Lyndsay rehabbed Garwin and here they are in 2011 having the ride of their lives!
Cracks: Wakefield His five year old crack is due to the huge flare and misshapen foot.
I taught his owner to trim and out it grew! He was such a handful to trim: a very large, moving target. In hindsight, I should have taken some time to clicker train him. He never took a bad step throughout the rehab!
5. The Natural Trim facilitates the repair of wall cracks, holes and other deformities.
This is a foundation broodmare, former racehorse, with 1″ of good connection of hoof wall to coffin bone at the top, then a long flared capsule with deep cracks. Of course the soles are flat because the coffin bone is not fully connected to the wall.
I soaked with White Lightening/Vinegar as directed. The deeply penetrating gases eliminate bacteria and fungus that would thwart our progress. The foot must be bagged to trap the gases, then put in a Soaker, so the baggie won’t rip.
By relieving the mechanical stress of the flared wall and eliminating bacteria and fungus with a soak, the hooves began to repair, immediately. I soaked every foot in White Lightening during the trim.
In the Reader’s Digest version of natural hoof repair, Dr. Robert Bowker says there are grocery bags of keratin traveling along the laminae attached to the coffin bone. The keratin creates and repairs hoof wall. 50% or so of the wall is created from within, while 50% grows from the coronary band. Her smaller cracks closed with the first mustang roll which relieved some mechanical stress on the wall.
I wish I had a graduation photo of this lovely girl but she developed colic and was put down several months after I started working with her.
Cracks etc. on Good Feet, the Good Foot Continuum: Good hooves aren’t static. Some days they are perfect, and another there’s a crack or thrush, especially in wet climates! Much of this toe crack has healed before reaching the ground. The mechanics were off and the wall cracks to accomodate. That’s its job.
More on The Good Hoof Continuum. See the hint of a quarter crack. This is where the hoof has challenges. Over time, as the hoof improves, many horse develop a ‘scoop’ or arch at ground level, at their quarters, an area of expansion when the horse is moving. I don’t trim (force) a scoop but prefer to wait until the horse creates it. They know how much structure versus flexibility they need.
6. Wall Cracks and Flare on Good Feet.
From time to time, quarter cracks on the side of the hoof and toe cracks in the front will develop on good feet. I have seen this most often on Thoroughbreds whose walls seem to max out at 1/4” thick. If the foot mechanics are a bit off, cracks may appear. Don’t apply any goop! Horses like hard hooves.
Back-Of-Foot: From the The Glass Horse. The front half of the foot is coffin bone and the back half is lateral cartilage. This is correct for a feral horse. In our domestic horses, you would be happy with a cartilage half that length and much thinner.The creators forgot the digital cushion located in back between the cartilages. (Reminder that none of the texts are entirely correct when it comes to the hoof. Here’s your proof.)
7. Building a Strong Back of Foot: Frog, Digital Cushion, Lateral Cartilages and Heels.
The central sulcus of the frog above is filling in, inside to outside. It sort of blossoms into a sulcas. Don’t trim it.
This frog is a bit behind the one above but still on the path to health. Notice how close the heels are. The back half of the foot looks sqeezed in. As it all rehabs, the heels will open up, but slowly. The owner’s responsiblity is to keep the frog healthy and encourage as much sound movement as possible.
The frog is thin and unhealthy; can you see the butt crack running up the back? Heels are contracted. I have marked the cartilages in the hair above the hoof to show how shoved up (bad) the leg they are. Granit, shod most of her life and here in her 20’s, transitioned out of shoes easily and was ridden in boots. Her heels opened up a lot but not completely.
Sunny with me on board, trotting down the Brandywine. Padded Epics on the front. As I write this we ride out in the Glove on front. He no longer needs padding but can’t handle the rocky trails because he lives in a grassy pasture.
- The Whole Horse Symposium: Mind Body Spirit. October 15 and 16. The Nat’l Equestrian Center in Lake St. Louis, Missouri. Great discounts for 3 or more and early birds. Fantastic lineup. Priceless conference.
- 2011 NO Laminitis Conference. The first annual with Dr. Robert Bowker, Dr. Eleanor Kellon and other major players. August 5, 6, 7. Syracuse, NY. Only $175!
- Under the Horse, 10 DVD series with Pete Ramey. $250 and worth every cent.
- Equine Sciences Academy to learn about all aspects of natural horse care. Audit available
- The Horse’s Hoof. Article series on the frog is archived.
- My site, 4 Sweet Feet, for many articles on trimming and natural horse care all geared to the owner. Free trimming videos focused on the rehab trim for the owner are posted.
- The Swedish Hoof School has some very interesting You Tube videos on hoof mechanism.
I hope you will share my posts far and wide. My goal is education for the horse owner. If you can’t find a trimmer in your area, I will help online. I am available for affordable clinics for owners who want to learn to trim their horse. For other resources, kindly check my site. Thanks for spreading the word about care for the natural horse!