Thursday, January 13, 2011

DIY trimming

I figure it might be helpful to explain why I took over care of the Quarters' hooves, I can explain it in two words: frustration and necessity. The last time I paid a farrier to trim their hooves it cost me $140, $70 to the farrier for the trim and $70 to the vet for Gwen's sedation; only to find, one week later, that their hooves looked like this:

A large chip out of Coriander's wall, note the underrun heels and long toe

All of Gwen's hooves were self trimming
Not to mention that when I picked their feet up they looked like this:

It might have been kismet, but at the this time I met Marjorie (Barefoot for Soundness). I told her how the farrier had said Coriander would need shoes if I ever wanted to trail ride but that I really didn't want to have to do that. She explained to me about how barefoot trims are different from pasture trims and assured me that with the correct care, he wouldn't need shoes for trail riding. I went home that night and read through her entire website and decided then and there I needed a new hoofcare provider. That proved to be a fruitless search, good barefoot trimmers are few and far between, and out of desperation I ended up taking the rasp into my own hands.

I started out VERY conservatively, taking a swipe here and there. I didn't touch the bar or frog at all in the beginning, that was WAY too scary. I also embarked on an educational voyage to learn as much as possible about healthy hoof mechanisms. Fortunately I am blessed with excellent reading comprehension and logic skills (I was a straight A student for a reason), so it wasn't long before I had a basic comprehension of hooves. I might sound cocky right now but I am well aware that I have a TON more to learn, as our recent battle with thrush proves.

The result is that my horses are now fantastic about their feet, I just park them in front of a pile of hay and then go about my business, no tying necessary. For the record, horses have no problem picking their feet up when their heads are down on the ground eating. Gwen did knock me on my butt once, she had a knot on her cannon bone from a kick and objected very strongly when I pressed on it. I growled at her for that, but recognized that it was a pain reaction and avoided that spot on her leg from then on.

I admit I have drunk the barefooter's lemonade. I am now a firm believer that horses are healthier when left barefoot. But I understand that not all horses should be barefoot depending on their circumstances. You have to make a special kind of commitment when you decide to keep a riding horse barefoot. You have to make an effort to educate yourself about the trimming, nutrition, and lifestyle changes you will need to make to keep your horse happy. Some people simply can't, or won't, commit themselves to it.

If you are thinking of going barefoot and are considering doing the trimming yourself I have some advice: (Disclaimer: remember that I'm not a professional and I still have a long way to go myself)

  1.  Take a really honest self appraisal: Trimming is hard work, are you physically up to it? It can also be scary, do you have the guts for it? Are you willing to immerse yourself in the constant education you'll need to make sure you don't screw up?
  2. Take pictures of your horse's hooves and compare them to healthy hooves you find online. Learn what underrun heels look like, what flares are, and how to spot a long toe.
  3. Find a good consultant before you pick up the rasp and share your before photos with them (I use Jenny at All Natural Horse Care), this way you can develop a plan before you touch the hooves and can get an informed reaction to your work.
  4. Take your time: When you first start trimming you'll get tired fast. Plan to trim only two hooves at a time and take frequent breaks. Your horse will appreciate this more than you know, I think a lot of hard to shoe horses would be a lot better about it if the farrier would just put their foot down more often.
  5. Avoid the farrier hold: My horses would immediately start fighting as soon as I tucked their hoof between my knees. I don't know if it's the feeling of confinement or what, but they really hate it. What I've found works best is to get down on one knee, this way I can use a knee as a hoof stand or for leverage and can still get out of the way fairly quickly if I need to.
  6. Hold the hinds lower to the ground. Many horses, mares especially, are uncomfortable holding their hind legs really high.
  7. Quarter relief, quarter relief, quarter relief. Learn it, live it.
  8. Buy some hoof boots, you will need them at some point in time.
  9. Buy high quality tools, they make one heck of a difference. I bought the trimming package from The Horse's Hoof and haven't regretted it for one second.
  10. Most importantly, if you find yourself getting upset at your horse STOP. Go grab a beverage and come back later when you've cooled off. Horses don't get better about their feet when you get in fights with them about it.
For further education:


  1. I realized recently that I hold the back legs too high when I pick. Bodhi was fighting with me lately and when I changed my hold to a lower one he was great! Whoops, there are wholes in even my most basic knowledge.

    Great post! I would love to learn to do my own trimming some day. I think as long as you are studious and have a knowledgeable reference then it is a doable task.

  2. Pete Ramey's site is also very good. I agree with your list of things you need to do - just haven't taken the plunge yet. Pie and Drifter are both barefoot, so I could do them myself.

  3. Bodhi's probably glad you figured that out. I only hold hind legs a few inches above the ground. Often when I trim the bars I actually let the hooves rest on the ground. It's easier that way.

    Kate I totally agree, Pete's site is great and it's on my list. If you decide to take the plunge you should consider buying a hoofstand. I can do without because I'm 32 but I imagine I'll need one as I get older.

  4. Excellent post! Pie and Sovey are barefoot and I have been thinking along these lines. Pie has a left front that grows out wild (flare?) and worries me in between farrier visits. My farrier charges $80 for both and they hate him. He isn't too bad with them, but he does hold the foot up too long, too high and they are nervous the entire time. I dread farrier days which says so much in one sentence. I need to learn this. I think I have the strength, I need to find the courage. You inspire me.

  5. I used to dread farrier visits too. It was awful, Coriander would try to fall over and Gwen just went nuts (thus the sedation). I hated having my heart in my throat through every trim. Now it's just a regular part of life and nobody gets upset over it. Much better.

  6. Oh and I should mention that when I started I'd do a touch up every other week. That really helped to get those flares under control.

  7. This sounds so much like my journey to barefoot trimming. I also started with Barefoot for Soundness and doing only a few rasps at a time. I also "converted" from using a farrier due to major disappointment in what I was spending money on. I had a farrier lame a filly I had, and it cost a lot of money to get her sound again. I figured I could lame my own horse for FREE! lol.

    Very good points about being commited to it. Another point is you WILL make mistakes--so I make it a point to look at my horse's feet several times a week. Not just the usual pick up and clean, but I mean really look--look at the angles, the way they travel, where they seem to be growing more and the actual health of the hoof (wall, sole, frog, bars, etc). I will often do touch-ups in between trims, just to try to catch problems (like cracks or flares) before they become a bigger issue.

    Although it IS very hard work, I do love trimming my own, though. :)

  8. I thought something along the same lines, I figured I might as well give it a try since I couldn't do much worse than the guy I just paid to do a crappy job.

    Very good point about the visual checks, Jessie. I didn't write about all the time I spend lying around on the ground staring at their feet (less so since it's winter), but it's a lot. I also look at how their feet land when I'm walking them, are they landing heel first? Coriander wasn't because of his thrush. Feel the footfalls when you're riding too, breakover makes a huge difference that you can feel while riding.

  9. OMG, Shannon. This is great! Good for you for taking matters into your own hands. Gwen and Coriander are so going to benefit from this. I drank the lemonade when I was researching before I bought Gem. I am fortunate that I have a good farrier and my guy's feet are not an issue.

  10. I know with Solidare we couldn't even do anything with her hinds off the floor. She just couldn't stand that way the last few years. But tipping the foot and resting it on a hand right at ground level she was good. Paying attention to little details like that can make things a lot more comfortable for the horse and a lot safer too.

  11. Wolfie you are lucky, if I could have found someone nearby who would come out and trim for me I would have jumped on that chance. Good trimmers and farriers are so hard to find. Remember when Mrs Mom and her husband flew out to Colorado to teach people how to trim? That's pretty telling I think.

    Mikael, I'm so glad for Solidare that you had a farrier what was willing to do that. So many of them aren't willing to change their methods to suit the horse.

  12. I probably should have mentioned it was a bare foot trimmer who trimmed Solidare for me.

  13. Yay for you! I kind of miss trimming, even though it messed up my lower back pretty significantly.

    I started with Pete Ramey's book and a file. It was an amazing experience, starting with the broodmares, then the babies, and finally a saddle horse.

    I basically don't trust anyone to touch my horse, which is why I'm convinced I can do anything better than a professional.

  14. It's sad how right you are, Natalie. Too bad getting a DVM takes so much time and money!

  15. Hi, happened to come across your blog. Good job! Your thrush problem can be sorted with a tiny bit of copper supplementation. Most horses lack sufficient copper and zinc. Good luck!

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately their thrush problem was not sorted out by adding copper and zinc. Tried that, didn't work. What is working is trimming the bars short and encouraging decontraction.