Hoof Rehab: Barefoot After Shoes

Here is an example of a rehabilitated hoof (right fore*) after 1 year and 4 months barefoot. After 2 years of wearing metal horse shoes, this Standardbred horse had underrun, contracted heels with long toe, flat sole, stretched frog, thrush in central sulcus, laid over, impacted bars, and walls that were disconnected, brittle and flared. I began doing my own trimming out of necessity.

horse hoof rehabilitation after pulling metal horse shoes

*Rehabilitated horse hoof after 1 year and 4 months barefoot.

Trimming Hooves Out of Necessity

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. Don't get me wrong, there are fantastic farriers/blacksmiths and trimmers out there, I am sure, but when it came to my horse's hoof rehab, every 7-8 weeks cookie cutter trims were not cutting it, and having a specialist come more often was just not within my spending budget. Therefore, I invested in the right hoof care tools, hoof knives, nippers, rasps, hoof angle gauge, hoof jack, etc., and attended courses and seminars, bought instructional textbooks and DVDs, connected with some mentors and little by litte began my own hoof-trimming journey.

Knowing what I know today, I realize that a really GOOD blacksmith or trimmer is not always easy to find, and when you have one, treat him/her as if his/her weight is gold! Not everyone is good and not every horse owner can tell the difference unless they understand hoof mechanics, anatomy and pathologies and then, have the vocabulary to specifically express any concerns. As far as learning to trim myself, I have NO regrets!!! I don't trim other people's horses, but my horse's hooves have never been better.

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 underrun 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 as you can see in the above photos, over time, the heels have opened up considerably, the hoof wall expanded, there is a nicely concaved sole, frog is thick and calloused, bars are strong and functional, supporting all structures and facilitating comfortable heel-first landing.

I want to add that I am not principally and categorically against horse shoes, they definitely have their place in the horse world, but when used one has to be fully informed about their specific use and consequences and have a skilled farrier and trimmer who works in the interest of the horse and closely with the owner. Any creeping issues should be recognized, pointed out and addressed, not be ignored, or overlooked, whether by the owner or the professional; anything missed can take a long time to get right again. Period...

What I tell horse owners:

I tell horse owners, even if they have no intentions of doing it themselves, you still need to know what each individual horse's hoof is supposed to look like so you know if your farrier is doing a good job, or not. 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. 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.

When trimming hooves consider the horse's conformation and each individual leg.

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 seminars. It's worth every penny.

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