Monday, August 13, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: Square Feet

I trimmed Harley's feet at about three and a half weeks this time around.  I was interested in the pattern of growth of his hoof wall.  I took some photos before beginning to trim.

August 2012 photos

Harley bevels his feet at the toe just by walking around all day.  This keeps the toe shorter than the rest of the hoofwall, giving his feet a "squared-off" appearance.  I have heard that this is common for quarter horses, but I suspect that it can happen in any barefoot horse.

Untrimmed front feet from the side.

The solar view shows the rounded off toe and longer hoof wall at the quarters.  The wall at the quarters is starting to spread out away from the foot, which is the beginning of flare, but I have to say that I like the look of his feet in these pictures.  Harley does not have round, wide feet and they are not very large, which is most likely a quarter horse trait.  Thankfully, he is not a big, bulky quarter horse, which is in his favor, because large horses with small feet are difficult to keep sound.  In addition to the all-important discussion of hoof balance and movement, there is also the simple factor of surface area.  The more surface area is present to contact the ground, the more the weight of the animal is distributed and shared over a greater area.  Larger feet make for larger weight-bearing surfaces and presumable less risk of injury and a greater likelihood of comfort, just like a well-fitting saddle should distribute the rider's weight over as large an area as the horse's conformation will allow and preserve the horse's back and range of motion.  I wonder if Harley's hoof wall grows/wears in this way to compensate for the size and shape of his feet.  After years of careful trimming and attention to the bars, his feet are still longer than they are wide, and perhaps they will always be that way.  Is he growing a "square" foot to give himself a larger surface area and, effectively, a larger, wider hoof?

Untrimmed right front

Untrimmed left front

The hind feet do not tend to square-off, which I imagine has a lot to do with the difference in mechanics and weight-bearing of the hinds, although he does still bevel the toe and flare the quarters.  He bevels the hind toes slightly to the outside, which I have heard is a common breakover pattern for hind feet.

A little worse for the lack of wear, a chip is visible at the lateral quarter.

Untrimmed right hind

Untrimmed left hind showing the chip

The chip in the left hind does not scare or worry me.  It was easily remedied during the hoof wall trim.  However, what it does tell me is that he was beginning to self trim at that location, which is my cue to rasp away.

I decided to take these observations into account when trimming his feet this time around.  This is not the first time that I have looked at the shape of his feet before trimming and liked how wide they looked.  Sometimes after the trim I feel a little disappointed that he lost some width once I removed the excess hoof wall.  So this time around, I decided to preserve that width as best I could, by leaving more wall at the quarters and trying to limit my bevel to about the water line (unpigmented hoof wall).  I feel like I am risking some flare in doing this, but then I remind myself that Harley's trimmer (that's me) is readily available should I need her.  I am not sure if the difference in my trim is noticeable in the photos, but I can see it in real life.

Left front post-trim

Right front post-trim

I still rolled the entire outer wall with the help of my hoof stand!

I think in this shot that you can see how I tried to preserve the hoof shape he was growing for himself.

A little far away, but you get the idea.

Left hind post-trim

Right hind post-trim

Hinds, post-trim

And again.

Left hind closeup: What chip?

I am hugely in favor of allowing the horse to dictate how his feet are cared for and I am also in favor of the "less is more" philosophy.  In practice, however, it is difficult to draw the line between functional "over-growth" and plain, old over-growth that needs to be trimmed.  I want form to follow function and not just to make my horse's feet pretty.  These are sound, hard-working feet already, but I still feel that my technique and ability to read the hoof can be improved.

A Question To Ponder:
Are Harley's square feet a sign of a functional shape that he wants or just a side-effect of a longer trim cycle?  I found it interesting that his fronts did not chip at the quarters like the one hind foot.  He has been as sure-footed and stable under saddle as ever.  I think it is also worth noting that he has rather narrow shoulders.

"I like shapes.  Can you see the star on my forehead?"


  1. Interesting. I'm still very much at the learning about barefoot stage. At some stage, I will get the confidence to trim by myself, but not yet

  2. I am SO JEALOUS of Harley's gorgeous feet. Swoon!

    What is most interesting to me about those pics is that the heel on the inside of both front feet is further forward, and narrower, than the outside. I don't think it has a THING to do with the trimming, mind you, I think it's just the way he likes his feet. Is that the effect of his shoulders? He does stand with the LF out a little, but most horses do something like that. So, why does he wear them that way? Anyway, just pondering feet... thanks for such an interesting post!

    1. Glad you liked it and that it got you pondering. I do not have all the answers, but I enjoy the discussion.

      I think the difference in his heels is related to how his foot lands. I believe that he weights the outside of his foot more(first) than the inside, because of the amount of wear that I see (actually, I do not think it is physically possible for him not to do that at least a little). Maybe that makes his outside heel bigger and stronger.

  3. Looks great. I admire your skill in doing this.

  4. Harley does have some pretty feet, and you do an admirable job of keeping them that way.

    Val's feet look super until you lift them up - though they are waaaay better since we went barefoot.

    I have gotten a good knife, rasp and nippers together (still saving for the stand + need some chaps) and have recently done intermediate trims that my farrier has approved. Still watching him like a hawk and pestering with questions to try to soak in more info.

    1. It is good to hear that Val is doing well with his feet. I give you a lot of credit for a hands-on approach to his hoof care. A farrier who is willing to teach and share information is a valuable person and I think that it is good for all horse owners to know something about the trimming process even if a farrier or trimmer is still employed. I didn't really understand the importance of it all until I had my own horse to look after.

  5. Coriander's feet grow a bit squarish, I think it may have something to do with him not having any hoof care to speak of for his first 9 years. I wouldn't be surprised if his coffin bone has been deformed. He's sound though, that's all that matters.

    1. Really? Hmmm. I wonder if that could be the same for my guy. Of course, I have no idea if or when he was shod in his life before me, also at about 9 years old.

      You are right. Sound is all that matters.
      Very, very grateful for that.

  6. Quite a lot of growth for a 3.5 week trim! Go Harley!

    I like your less is more approach to trimming. I like how you are prepared to tweak, but only after thoroughly thinking about WHY you are picking up the rasp.

    If he is sound, keeping up with his work load, not tripping or needing body work then you know you are doing right by his feet. I <3 owner trimmers!

    1. It's a lot, right?

      Cool feedback. Thanks for the confirmation, Lisa.

      The last time my teacher was here, she did some bodywork on Harley and said that he felt great, especially in his neck, and she said that he was standing with his back up much better. Yay!


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