I've been putting this off because this is a topic that will potentially make me very unpopular, but I just saw a horse that put it in the front of my mind. Last week I got a call from a kid who just got his first horse and wanted me to trim her, when I got out there I found out that all her hooves looked like this:
And all I could think was, "I'm never going to see this horse again."
Why would I think that? Because with a hoof like this I know there's a very good chance the horse will come away from the trim sore. Most horse owners will immediately fire any trimmer who leaves their horse sore.
"But wouldn't they be justified?" You may say, "surely a good trimmer wouldn't leave a horse sore after a trim?"
Here's the truth: Healing hurts. If you've ever had physical therapy you know this very well. If you've ever had someone massage knots out of your back or neck you know this as well. It hurts, and then you feel better.
Look at the hoof pictured, note the long walls, bars and lumpy sole. Overly long hoof walls will, through the force of the hoof impacting the ground, tear away from the coronet band little by little. Overly long bars will bruise the corium and press on the DDFT and navicular bone. Lumpy soles will also bruise the corium under the coffin bone. All of these things are painful.
Do you know how humans can eventually tune out the pain of wearing uncomfortable shoes but once you take the shoes off your feet hurt like heck? Over time horses can tune out the pain in their feet too, and once you take away the overgrowth damaging the hoof, guess what happens- their feet hurt like heck.
So here's the trimmer's dilemma: Do you do enough to let the hoof heal and risk the horse being sore, or do you do as little as possible to maintain the status quo and let the damage keep happening? Personally, I'll take the temporary soreness if it means that the hoof is healing.
If the trim is good but the horse is sore it means that healing is happening, if you wait a few days for the pain to go away you'll probably find that the horse is moving much better than they were before the trim. That's how rehabilitation works, sometimes you have to take a step back to make a leap forward. (If the trim is bad and the horse is sore that's a big problem, this is where the onus is on the owner to know a good trim from a bad one.)
Okay- back to the horse. She was initially very nervous, didn't want to pick up her feet and even nipped at me once. Obviously she didn't have pleasant associations with trims. Fortunately her attitude completely changed through the course of the trim and she became quite friendly towards me. I found evidence of damage on all of her feet though, bruising around the white line, bruising around the bars, bruising on the soles... they were a mess. Despite that it seems that she wasn't sore after the trim (I asked the owner to contact me if she was) which I think is because her feet were essentially pretty healthy underneath all that junk (note the round shape of the hoof and the nice wide heels).
Next up (eventually): Sound vs. "sound."