Thursday, March 31, 2011

Optimal Hooves: Don't have overgrown bars

This information is a little revolutionary, very few people really understand the bars. It wasn't until I found Cheryl at ABC Hoofcare that I really learned what they are, what they do, and how to manage them.

What do the bars do?
Remember that the coffin bone is shaped like a half moon and that it sits in the front of the foot. Therefore the coffin bone is responsible for the shape of the front of the foot. Since the back of the foot is composed of soft tissue, what is in the back of the foot to help the hoof hold it's shape? The bars. They give the back of the foot the arch structure that the coffin bone gives to the front of the hoof.

What are the bars made of?
It might be easier to think of the bars being half-wall and half-sole. They need to be stiff enough to hold the structure, but not so stiff that they don't have any give at all. Remember, the bars and the walls aren't quite the same thing, but even more importantly the bars and the sole aren't the same thing at all.

How do you manage the bars?
There is some confusion about this, even the barefoot schools don't agree on this. For example, Pete Ramey recommends leaving the bars alone.

Quick aside about Pete Ramey's trim: I think Pete Ramey is great. He has done fantastic things for the barefoot movement. If you want to learn about hooves start with Pete Ramey. But know that he teaches a very conservative trim. His trim is a great place to start and a good way to maintain healthy hooves, but if your horses have some issues you'll need to branch out after you've learned the basics from him.

But you need to trim the bars! Bars are tricksy little things that if given free rein will go crazy and grow over the rest of the hoof. Literally. Bar is much stiffer and stronger than sole, if it grows over the sole it will actually reduce hoof function by not allowing the hoof to flex as it should; if it grows too far it will actually cause the corium to stop growing sole!
When it comes to seeing bar that has grown over the sole, probably 3/4 of farriers and trimmers don't know that they're looking at. I'm going to try and make sure you don't miss it too. It helps that bar tissue and sole tissue don't look the same at all. Bar is waxy, smooth, and yellowish/whitish; sole is sort of pebbly and typically has a pigmentation pattern.

So how do you spot it?
 You develop an eye.

Take this foot for instance:
It's pretty easy to tell looking at this hoof that the bars have overgrown, right? There's an obvious ridge running all the way from the heels around the apex of the frog. But given the state of the walls you're not too surprised to see it.

How about this hoof?
Photo from a barefoot trimmer
 Or this hoof?
Photo from a farrier
Both of these hooves have badly overgrown bars- all the way over the sole! It's even grown up over the apex of the frog in the second hoof! That pink you see is bruising caused by bar material choking out the sole, the first one would probably show that too if the bar material was thinner.

Fortunately I happen to have a horse that doesn't have bar material growing over the sole.
Coriander's right fore, with some hay and poo for funsies
 Unfortunately I also have one that does (though not the whole thing, thank goodness).
Gwen's left hind
Can you see it now?


  1. I am really enjoying these posts. The bars are always what throws me and now I see why. Thanks for the info, I will be looking at my horses' feet with fresh perspective.

  2. I really had to look at these photos for a while and then the lightbulb went off in my brain. I know so little about feet and I have been loving your posts!

  3. Very useful info - like the photos.

  4. I've gotta say, I can see it really well in the first picture, but I'm having a more difficult time seeing it in the barefoot trimmer horses. In the picture of Gwen's foot, is it the lighter colored areas?

    I'm not sure I could recognize it on my own horse's feet, but gosh darn it, I'm going to look!

  5. Wonderful! I love learning about this subject.

    I have a great farrier who saved my horse's life four years ago--all of my other horses are also trimmed by him and they all go barefoot on our basalt trails--all year. They don't even have to wear boots. He talks about all these things as he works, but it goes over my head. I have a hard time seeing it. Thank you for breaking it down with pictures!!!!

  6. Wow. I never even thought of the bars. And, yes, I can see the difference now! How do you trim them?? And can the overgrowth be reversed? Am I jumping ahead?? :-) I can't wait to see my guy's feet tomorrow!!

  7. Interesting. I need to go examine my horse's hooves now! I'm with Wolfie. How do you trim them to prevent them from getting overgrown or fix the overgrowth?

  8. Hi everybody, hopefully my second post on bars will answer some of your questions. You can always send me an email at radal16 AT if you have more questions.

  9. I'm not seeing it. Is it that on the overgrown bars the frog appears recessed? Especially around the tip?

    1. No photo in particular.
      I just can't tell the difference between overgrown bars and normal ones. Especially on the second photo.
      How can i tell if my horses bars are overgrown and what can i do to remove the excess if they are?

    2. Can you send me a photo? I'll mark it up for you. radal16 AT

  10. Can I send you a pic of my friend's pony's feet? I've noticed several problems, I just want to see if you see the same things? I don't have a lot of experience, so I really don't want her to fire her farrier on my word alone

  11. Hate to jump in in the middle/tail in of this, but... I have a wonderful trimmer who studied under Pete Ramey (we even went to one of his clinics and he trimmed my mare, he agrees with my trimmer, they dont think my mare has navicular). I went in search of her after my mare was diagnosed with navicular syndrom. We have come a long way and have made great progress, but we still come up lame every so often. We have another odd problem too with strange grooves that run from the apex of her frog to the tip of her hoof. Would you mind if I sent you pictures and you gave me some feedback?

    1. Yes you can, smazourek AT, but you should know that I don't agree with Pete Ramey about the bars. I'm happy to give my opinion and then you can take what you like from it.