Thursday, January 16, 2014

Healthy bars

Cindy had a very good question about my last hoof post: What do healthy bars look like?

In a nutshell:
  • Healthy bars end at the midpoint of the frog
  • they are straight instead of bowed
  • they stand up, not pushed over onto the sole
  • they are not so long and deep that you can't see the bottom of the collateral groove
  • really healthy bars point toward the frog and not the toe

In detail: 

First we have to know what the internal bar structure looks like. In this photo you see a pretty nice hoof, the heels were nice and wide and the corium was healthy. You can see that the bar corium (outlined) angles in from the heels to the midpoint of the frog.

(I encourage you to click on these photos and zoom in to see the detail, they are important.)
Photo by Cheryl Henderson
In this, slightly less healthy, hoof you can see that the bar corium has started to angle toward the toe but they still end at the midpoint of the frog.
Photo from HP Hoofcare

 In this, really unhealthy, hoof you can see the bar corium (bright red) points straight toward the toe but they still end at the midpoint of the frog.
Photo from HP Hoofcare
What all these hooves have is common is that the bars all end at the midpoint of the frog. That is true whether they are healthy or terrible. So when I trim I try to get the bars to end at the midpoint of the frog- to keep the external structures similar to the internal structures.

The angle is a different story. You can tell by the above hooves that if the hoof is contracted and unhealthy the bars are going to point straight at the toe. You can't change this by trimming, only the full weight of the horse on the heels will get them to open up and point the bars toward the center of the hoof. What you can do is make sure the bars aren't so long they are digging into the hoof and aren't laid over so they are suffocating the sole. Essentially, you want to trim the bars to give the horse comfort; that will facilitate the hoof transforming into a healthy shape.

The following two photos show my second trim on a contracted hoof. I use the bar lamina to outline the bars from the heel turnaround (seat of corn) to the frog. I then try to make the bars as straight as possible and I slope them "downhill" from the heels to the frog. I do this so the bars are "passive," meaning that they don't bear weight which is especially important if the bars are impacted. While I do this I try to take off as little sole as possible, this can be a very time consuming process of taking off thin slivers at a time. It takes a sharp knife, a steady hand and lots of practice (I admit, I still need more practice) and can be made even harder by a fidgety horse. 

In this closer view of the above hoof, you can see the bar lamina as the demarcation between the inner/unpigmented bar wall and the sole. In this horse it's easy to see because the sole is slate colored.

If you can't see the lamina the bars are laid over the sole. If there is a black line along the bars it means they've laid over the sole and trapped dirt and thrush under them. That trapped dirt and thrush will destroy any sole underneath it, not good.

This next photo is after my first trim on a pony. The circled areas show bruising from overgrown bar, bruises that weren't visible until I started pulling the bar off the sole (Excess bar puts too much pressure on the corium below it, crushing blood vessels and creating these bruises.). Lots of horses have these bruises but you don't see them because the bar that causes the bruises also covers them up.

This last hoof is mostly healthy and shows little sign of contraction. You can see how the bars on this hoof angle in toward the frog instead of pointing down to the toes. I didn't make this happen, I just followed the bar lamina. These bars are pretty close to ideal, if your horse has bars that look like this chances are that horse is sound.

Bars should look similar to this

Here's a how-to guide to trimming bars similar to the way I trim:

Questions? Please comment.


  1. Oh that is an awesome post!!!!! Thank you so much.
    I'm off to go look at feeties now.

    1. Yay, feel free to ask any questions you have.

    2. Would you be willing to email me direct? I would like to send you some pictures privately and get your opinion on some things. I'm learning that just because a professional tells me "this is what your horse needs", doesn't mean it is always correct. Especially if it looks wrong to me. What I am seeing looks wrong. I went with my file and made a few changes to give the mare a little relief but I am afraid to take it too far with out a little bit of guidance. But even with the changes, it looks wrong to me.

      My email is

      Thanks you in advance

  2. Thanks for the info and pictures. I'm getting a good education from your posts. Even though I'll probably never trim a hoof it's still nice to know whats going on down there.

  3. Thank you! I was just talking to my farrier about Shy's bars, they seem to grow long, but they do tend to look more like that last photo. I'll have to take some hoof photos, haven't done that in a while.

    1. Always take hoof photos, it's a great way to keep track of her soundness and to make sure your farrier keeps doing a good job. Sometimes people get complacent and start letting things slide.

  4. Just catching up on your posts, looks like you are a follower of Cheryl Henderson- yay! Se has done the horse world a favour in all her studies on bar. I know what a difference it has made to my horses to get rid of all the bar problems, Beamer is still a work in progress but we nearly have it conquered; he still has a little bit of bar that actually grew underneath the frog, we're hoping it will pop free before the next trim. On the young horses it's amazing to see how quickly bar will lay over with soft ground and limited turnout, even Josie who won't be a year old till March has had to have excess bar trimmed.

    1. Yup, I went to Cheryl's school a few years ago :)

      Lots of people seem to be in denial about bars, those suckers just keep on growing and if they aren't wearing off or getting trimmed they have to go somewhere. Glad your horses are showing improvement, you're setting up little Josie to be sound for life!

  5. Great post and thanks for the link.

  6. Been meaning to comment on this post...

    I've had an ongoing discussion with my farrier about trimming the bars. He says Val hasn't got enough sole, so I go in between visits, and do the bars myself.

    I see after reading the link above (thank you) that it would be easy to trim sole instead of bars if you aren't super careful, and maybe that is what my farrier means, coupled with time considerations.

    Val picks up all four feet himself, immediately, since I've been working on them. He used to be very reluctant on the hinds. He also licks and chews like crazy when I start in with the hoof knife.

    Another thing I noticed is that the bar overgrowth is not even laterally - there is more on the outside of the hinds than the inside, and not nearly as much on the fronts as the hinds.

    It's been pretty tough to trim since I broke my arm, but the last week or so I'm getting back up to speed. Would love your input on my next efforts - will post pics. :D

    1. I don't know where your farrier got his info, but Bowker put out a few years ago that sole grows from the bars. It doesn't, he was wrong. That's what happens when you're one of the only PhDs in the world researching hooves. There are also a bunch of people that think the bars give support when the sole is thin, I don't agree with that either. From what I've read recently the only way to thicken a sole is to first grow in well-connected walls, this creates concavity and then the sole thickens. Not sure yet whether this is really what happens but seems plausible.

      Anyway, Val's response tells you that what you're doing is right. The uneven growth might be due to conformation/stance- does he weight the outside of his hooves more? Some of it might also be due to farrieritis ;)

      Will wait for your pictures!

  7. You have a lot to learn but I applaud you for putting your opinion out there...when most of the better known internet gurus will not. The bars should not end as you describe this would put too much pressure at the center of articulation of the coffin joint. Bars that end as you describe are the result of forward heels. Instead the bars should point to the apex of the frog. I will be glad to share photos...but more important is the horses movement...your trim will cause a flat or slight heel hoof-fall because of the restriction to the coffin this horse move bruce