Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Barefoot Horse: Stages of Trimming

Last weekend, I trimmed Harley's feet.  I worked on his front feet on Saturday and his hind feet on Sunday.  This is still a doable activity for me and also still very rewarding.  I am more grateful than ever for the hoof stand and the new, sharp rasp that my husband got me for Christmas.  I can take down excess hoof wall very quickly with that tool (a standard length rasp with handle covers on both ends).  I still need the shorter, Ladies' Rasp for the bevel.

Leaning over is not my friend right now, but squatting is fine and an excellent exercise for my body.  I squatted as much as possible while trimming Harley's feet and this protected my back and made my job a lot easier.  I switched from the left foot to the right foot periodically, to give both of us a rest.  I like to work each of my horse's feet in stages back and forth until both front feet are finished.  Then I move on to the hinds or trim them on a different day.

The Stages of My Hoof Trimming Process
(Please see the Disclaimer at the bottom of this webpage.):

Pre-Inspection: Look at all of my horse's feet and legs while he is standing in the aisle.  His limbs should be straight above each foot.  Note any flare at ground level or bulging hairlines at the coronet, if present.  In my experience with my own horse, a balanced foot that is trimmed often enough should not have flare or a bulging hairline.

Stage one: Take down excess hoof wall that is standing "proud" of the sole.  This includes the heels.

Stage two: Bring the toe back to the white line with a strong bevel*.  I use the foot as a guide rather than measure angles, but the rasp is at about forty-five degrees, if you are curious.

Stage three: Continue beveling the hoof wall from the toe to the quarters.  The bevel should be strong enough that no outer hoof wall (dark pigmentation in Harley) will touch the ground and most of the inner hoof wall (unpigmented hoof wall, also called the "water line") is also off the ground*. 

Stage four: Address the height of the heels in relation to the entire foot.  Carefully rasp away more hoof wall if the heels are standing above the live sole in the buttresses.  This used to also require that I scrape chalky, dead sole out of the buttresses, but I have not had to the that for quite some time now.  Bring the heels back so that there is a large surface area to distribute weight upon landing.  Bevel the dark, outer hoof wall at the heels and join this continuous bevel with the bevel at the quarters.  This is the newest addition to my trimming process.

Stage five: Inspect each foot and touch up any missed areas.  Smooth and round the edge of the bevel all the way around the hoof.  This can be down while viewing the bottom of the foot or by bringing the foot forward on a stand.  Excess flare at the quarters can also be removed in this way, but that has not been required in Harley's trims since I have started continuing the bevel all the way around the foot.

Stage six: Double or triple check the heels for balance in relation to the entire foot.  In general, the heels of the same foot should both have been brought back to the same point and the height of the heels should be the same as viewed from the back of the foot, looking across the entire foot as if you were viewing the lip of a drinking glass.

Stage seven: Trim the bars flush with the sole and any excess bar material next to the frog.  Treat the frogs, if necessary.  The constant wet and mud is not kind to frogs this time of year.

Post-Inspection: Repeat the pre-inspection.  My horse should be weighting his entire foot, back to front, and no outer hoof wall should be touching the ground.  Ideally, he is standing square and dispersing his weight evenly laterally and from back to front.  I take a step back and inspect the entire foot, limb, and horse periodically throughout the trimming process.  It only takes a second and keeps the whole horse in my mind, because each foot does not exist as an entity in and of itself!

*If there is any separation of the hoof wall from the laminae (white line), then I bevel to the white line.  This happens at the quarters in periods of fast growth when I am not trimming often enough to keep up with his need to weather hoof wall.  I try my best to avoid this by trimming more often in the spring and summer than I do in the fall or winter.

I did not take many pictures this time around, because I wanted to limit the number of times that I had to lean over.  I would have left my camera in the bag completely, but the heels on his front feet made me cheer with glee so I had to snap a picture.

Right front: Large weight-bearing surface at each heel.  This and the next photo were taken after "stage one".

Left front: The heel surfaces appear to have become larger since I started continuing the bevel all the way to the heels.

Left front, post-trim (oops! blurry)

Right front, post-trim

Put carrots here as needed (Harley encourages liberal, frequent applications).  Well-timed carrots foster good behavior and cooperation from your equine partner.  I will give a carrot during a break after he has stood nicely and waited for me to put his foot down.  If he is fidgety or takes his foot away, he does not get a carrot.  He is allowed to ask to put his foot down to adjust his stance.  I oblige him.  Sometimes he moves his foot a bit to show me that he wants it in a different spot (move the stand back, for example).  I am more than happy to work with him so we can both be as comfortable as possible.  For me, trimming is a lengthy process at about 15 minutes per foot working back and forth between the left and right.

Buddy Update: Harley and his paddock mate are back together again.  The mud has persisted, but the separation of friends has not.  I am very happy for both of them, even if they are making a terrible mess slopping around together in the mud.  Apparently, they were running and playing quite a lot.


  1. Unfortunately you are going to find that the bigger you get the harder it's going to be to really look at those hooves. I know there's something going on with my hoof collection, but I can't get down there to see them. The horses are sound right now, so they'll keep for a few more weeks.

    So you know when I said you might want to try rolling the heel walls? Well I learned something contradictory recently- it doesn't quite work out that well when the ground is soft. I'm going to try to discuss this with James Welz...

    1. That is why one photo was blurry. I have others, but they are all blurry, too. I was shooting as fast as possible and couldn't be bothered to make sure everything was steady or in the frame!

      I will be very curious to read the follow-up post (which I also hope you will have the time to write). So far I am happy with the extended roll. I am just taking off the dark edge at the heels.

      I am envious that you are almost finished with your pregnancy and wishing you an easy delivery!

  2. I'm a chicken about bevaling... I need to get more comfortable with being a bit more aggressive with it I think... Beautiful toes!!

    1. Take you time getting comfortable. I started out very conservative and I think that was a good thing.

      Thank you!

  3. Harley's feet look great. Glad to hear he enjoyed his carrots and is back with his buddy. Hope you're feeling we'll too.

    1. It is great, isn't? Socializing over the fence turned out to be less tolerable than the mud.

      I am feeling good, but antsy. Forty weeks is a long time to constantly be under-construction. :)

    2. I think his hooves look good! I have always wanted to be able to trim Shy's hooves, but I am too afraid I'll mess her up. Love reading about people trimming their own horses hooves :)

    3. Thanks!

      Even if you do not pick up a rasp, it is helpful to know what you are looking at and how your trimmer or farrier is trimming your horse's feet. There are a lot of good sites online to get you started. I like
      Barefoot for Soundness ( by Marjorie Smith.

    4. Thank you! So much information in one spot! Looks like I know what I will be reading all week :)

  4. How far do you bevel the heels? I more or less follow the same trim as you, but I stop the bevel before the seat of corn: I want Cassie to have a big platform to land on as she has only recently gone from toe landing to heel landing.

    1. I take the edge off the heels with the fine teeth of the rasp. I blend this very subtle bevel with the stronger roll at the quarters.

      The edge of the heels is already rounded off from use before I start my trim, so in a way I am just putting back what the horse did after I remove excess wall, which created an "edge". The aim is not to reduce the landing platform, but make it easy for the horse to roll onto the platform without any edge to catch or cause resistance as the foot lands. Anyway, that is my non-professional interpretation of what the horse might experience.

    2. To clarify, I take the edge off all the way around the heel.

  5. I'm so impressed that you're still trimming. :D

    Thanks so much for the link to Barefoot for soundness. I will be studying the site closely, as Val's recent lameness probably had it's roots in way too long between trims + wet, wet weather. I'm going to have to get serious about trimming in between my farrier's visits.

    1. Barefoot for Soundness is one of my favorite sites. Majorie Smith gives excellent instructions and includes "how-to" photos and links, which I believe is a rarity. I was a frequent visitor at her site when I was getting started.

      I hope Val is still feeling better. Mystery (or any form of) lameness is something that no horse owner wants to see in their horse.


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