Horse hoof trimming is an essential part of good hoof care, whether a horse wears shoes or is barefoot. In the wild, horses are constantly on the move and cover varying terrain, which causes hooves to wear down and naturally keeps them short. Modern-day horses don’t live or work in the same way, and so without regular trimming hooves will continue to grow, eventually becoming so long that they curl at the toe.
Horses who are barefoot and ridden regularly will wear hooves down, some more than others, but regular visits from a farrier are still essential, ideally every four to six weeks. Even if hoof trimming isn’t required at every visit, a farrier will be able to assess hoof length, condition and could even spot any potential problems before they become an issue. Shod horses have their hooves trimmed at each shoeing and it is important to note that in the UK, only a registered farrier can shoe a horse.
A horse’s hoof is a lot more than what see on the outside. These are the three areas that you can see:
Hoof wall — this is the outer layer of the hoof and it is made of keratin, like human fingernails. It is hard and either black or white. It is the hoof wall that will grow and grow without trimming, providing it is strong and healthy. Potential problems include cracking and brittleness.
Sole of the hoof — this is the bottom of the hoof, which you see when you pick out debris with a hoof pick. The sole and the hoof wall protect the inner hoof capsule and bones. The sole is softer than the hoof wall and problems can occur if it is allowed to become wet and soften even more, leaving the horse vulnerable to problems such as thrush, bruising and abscesses caused by puncture wounds.
The frog — this is the ‘V’ you see in the sole of your horse’s foot. It runs from the heel bulbs of the hoof towards the toe and it is a sensitive area. It plays an important role in helping blood to pump to the heart.
Horse hoof trimming: how it is done
Before the farrier arrives to trim hooves or shoe your horse, make sure the hooves are clean and dry. This applies to the whole leg, so that your farrier doesn’t have to hold wet, muddy legs. This is the process used to trim a hoof:
- The farrier will pick up the horse’s leg and hold it between their knees, so that it is held firmly and they can see the sole. It’s important that in between farrier visits you routinely lift and handle your horse’s legs, so that they are confident when being trimmed or shod and will quietly stand still, sometimes for a long time.
- The first thing the farrier will do is clean the hoof. They will use a hoof knife to do this and you may start to see clean sole (white) as the dirty black layer is removed. This applies to the ridges on either side of the frog too — a hoof knife has a specially curved end to help clean these areas. Once finised with the hoof knife, the farrier will use a wire brush to get rid of dust and dirt.
- Then it’s time for hoof trimming itself. Using sharp hoof nippers (which look a little bit like pliers), the farrier will cut excess hoof wall from around the full circumference of the hoof. Some horses will need more hoof trimmed away than others. It’s a bit like a person’s trimming their nails — and it’s the trimmed hoof that you’ll see on the floor afterwards. (Dogs often like to pick these up!)
- Next, the farrier will use a rasp to smooth out any sharp edges left by the hoof nippers.
- It may be necessary for the farrier to remove any excess sole and frog. They are trained to know what is live sole, exfoliating sole, and retained sole — live sole should not be trimmed and will cause the horse pain if done so.
- These steps will be repeated for all four hooves.
Hoof trimming: healthy hooves
When hoof trimming is complete, ask your farrier how healthy they think the hooves are and whether they recommend anything to improve them. Some, for example, may recommend applying an ointment to help with their condition and prevent them becoming brittle.
Remember that regularly trimmed hooves are stronger and healthier, and horses with a routine hoof trimming schedule stay sound for longer, so it’s important to keep your horse’s farrier appointments whether your horse is shod or barefoot. Overgrown hooves cause horses, ponies, donkeys and all equines pain, affect hoof balance and in some cases, particularly welfare cases, prevent the animal from walking properly.
All images by Shutterstock