When you ask a horse owner, or caretaker, why they began trimming their own horse's hooves, almost everyone I know said: out of necessity, because I had no other choice, I had to take matters into my own hands. After 2 years of wearing metal horse shoes my Standardbred horse had contracted heels that were under-run with a long toe, flat sole, stretched frog, laid over bars (impacted) and walls that were brittle and flared. Instead of a nice round shape, the hooves appeared stretched with all structures migrating forward into a long oval, and so, I began practicing my own hoof trims, pretty much out of necessity.
Trimming Hooves Out of Necessity
Don't get me wrong, there are fantastic farriers/blacksmiths and trimmers out there, but when it came to my horse's hoof rehab, 6-7 weeks between trims was not going to cut it and having a hoof care specialist come more often was just not within my budget. Instead, I invested in some good hoof care tools: hoof knives, nippers, rasps, hoof angle gauge, hoof jack, good leather gloves and an apron, attended basic hoof trimming workshops, bought instructional textbooks and DVDs, connected with some mentors and little by little began my own hoof-trimming journey.
After Removing the Horse Shoes
In the above three images you see the right fore of my Standardbred mare over time. The first photo shows the hoof two weeks after horse shoe removal and kept barefoot. The next photo was taken 1 year later and the third one year and four months after pulling the shoes and many gradual corrective trims and adjustments later. Initially the heels were under-run and contracted, the toe and frog was stretched forward, the bars were overlaid and impacted into the sole, the sole was flat, the hoof wall brittle, separated and weak. Once the hoof was restored, the heels have opened up considerably, the frog is thick and calloused, the wall is evenly thick all the way around, the bars are strong and functional, able to support the inner and outer structures of the whole hoof and facilitating comfortable heel-first landing.
Over all, my horse came out of the shoes comfortably and the heels gradually opened up considerably, the hoof expanded, the heels recovered, the sole and frog is thick and calloused, bars are strong and functional, the hoof wall is supporting all structures and facilitating comfortable heel-first landing.
What I Know Today
Knowing what I know today, I realize that a good farrier, equine podiatrist, or trimmer is not always easy to find. Not everyone is bad, but not everyone is good either! Furthermore, not every horse owner can tell the difference between good or bad, unless they understand hoof mechanics, anatomy and certain hoof pathologies and even then they must have the vocabulary to specifically express any concerns unless they are working with a professional, who will on his/her own, point out certain conditions and alert you to certain possible issues, but not all will do that...
What I tell horse owners:
I tell horse owners, even if they have no intentions of trimming hooves themselves, they still need to know what each individual hoof is supposed to look like, so they know if your farrier is doing a good job. Pick up the hoof and see if it's level, eyeball the coronary band, and pastern slope and make sure that slope continues on down the hoof so you know if angle for that particular horse is correct. You can use a hoof angle measure tool to check the angles, but do not assume that every hoof angle should, or must be the same all around. When communicating with your farrier/trimmer be very specific. Factor in the whole leg and the horse's confirmation and special needs. Observe your horse's gait, flight path and landing patterns, not only directly when the horse moves toward and away from you, but you can also see and learn a lot from the hoof prints in the sand. Maintaining a correct angle, as well as appropriate toe and heel length is key to establishing a balanced hoof trim and good gaits. As far as learning to trim myself, I have NO regrets! I won't trim other people's horses, but my own horse's hooves have never been better.
By the way, anyone looking for an excellent book should get "Care and Rehabilitation of the Equine Foot" by Pete Ramey, and if he is ever in the area sign up for one of his (for ever booked out!) hoof trimming workshops and seminars. It's worth every penny.