Owner's Guide to Hoof Trimming

By Dyan Westvang

Many people ask how a Fox Trotting horse's hooves should be trimmed and many get conflicting answers….or…they get answers they do not understand or cannot implement. Because of this many horses go around on sore FEET, develop problems with joints, feet, and leg tendons and ligaments. After the horse becomes lame is the wrong time to deal with these issues.

It has been our experience that in order to get a proper job of hoof care from the average farrier today, a person must know what is needed. For some reason farriers do not seem to be as in tune with a proper hoof balance as they could be and unless the OWNER knows what to look for, they simply rely on the farrier as the professional and bow to his "expertise" . This sometimes can be a real problem.
People today take charge of their own medical programs by learning and then discussing and in some situations demanding of their doctors and other health care workers what they feel is best for them. Well,….it is time people begin to take charge of their horse's FEET as well and demand proper care for those foundations of the horse. Without feet, you HAVE no horse.

Here are a few simple things a person can look for and demand from a farrier that will make your horse much more balanced and less likely to have lameness. Anyone can learn to see this and anyone can show it to a farrier and request this. If a farrier refuses or cannot deliver this type of trimming, …then it is time to get a NEW one.
After suffering for several years with horses who's feet were long in the toe, low in the heal, unlevel, and unbalanced it became obvious that we needed to learn WHY the hooves were this way and what was needed to make them right. It is really pretty basic once you learn and therefore it is a big puzzle as to why so many farriers are not doing a better job of things.
Here are some simple things you should know and demand from your farrier. After all, it is YOUR horse and you need to take charge!


Pick up your horse's hoof and hold it level in your hands looking at the bottom of the foot. You will see a rim running around the edge of the hoof that is called the hoof wall. The hoof is divided by a spongy sort of growth that is called the frog. Adjacent to the frog and running to the hoof wall there are some ridges at either side which are called the bars. The flat surface is called the sole of the foot.

When a horse is properly trimmed the foot should be divided into sections. The back of the foot should be 2/3 of the foot so that only 1/3 of the foot extends beyond the tip of the frog. The measurement from the tip of the frog to the end of the toe should be about the same as from the side of the frog to the hoof wall. The frog should be left thick and wide and not pared away any more than necessary . The frog acts as a natural shock absorber but more than that it acts to pump the blood back up the leg to the heart. Without the frog action the heart has to work harder to get that blood back up the leg.

The wall of the hoof should be trimmed back to the widest part of the frog. By doing this the hoof will be in natural balance and the toe will not be long putting undue pressure on the coffin bone. This also puts the bars, the strongest part of the hoof, in the ideal place for the shoe to come. Otherwise the shoe will either bear too much pressure on the foot, or it will fall short of protecting the heel of the foot.

The hoof should then be rasped level. To see this hold the hoof in your hands with the toe facing down toward the ground. Get your eyes directly behind the center of the frog and look down the foot. Is it level on both sides of the frog? Are the levels the same on both sides? If not, ask the farrier to correct the foot BEFORE a shoe goes on.

When the hoof is placed on the ground, look at the angles from fetlock (ankle) to ground. The angle there should naturally be about the same angle as the shoulder. On hind feet the angle should be about the same as the hip. That line should come down from ankle to toe in a smooth line and should not have a bump at the coronary band. IF there is a bump at the coronary band the foot will be at a different angle than the pastern…not good.

If you have a horse with a coronary band that is uneven when you clip the hair up from the hoof, that foot is giving you a signal that the foot is out of balance. When a foot is IN balance that band grows evenly. The uneven hair line or lines in the foot are caused by pressure points of a hoof out of balance!

When shoes are placed on the hoof, there should be a rim of shoe showing around the entire foot. That rim should be about the width of a nickel and should be even all the way around unless there is a reason for correction on one part of the foot or another. At the heel the shoe should extend just a bit behind the bar to give support to the foot. The nails should not be placed on the back ¼ of the foot toward the heel because to do so will constrict the heel and lead to other problems.
Knowing these simple things can save a lot of problems later on down the road.

If you stand your horse up square with it's weight evenly distributed on all four legs and look down the leg, that leg should fall over the hoof. For some reason today, most horses when stood up this way will have their hoof way out in front of the leg…that puts all the weight bearing and stress on the tendons and ligaments behind the pastern and then undue stress on the heel of the horse. This can lead to navicular disease and many other lamenesses including suspensory ligament injury.

A horse that it properly trimmed will grow a natural foot that should come smoothly down from the coronary band. It should not be concave or hollowed out from band to ground and it should not be rounded out from band to ground. It should come down at a smooth angle with the ground edge being the widest point.

To recap:

1. Frog should run 2/3 of the way up the hoof
2. Measurement from frog tip to toe edge should be 1/3 of total hoof measurement
3. Hoof wall should be trimmed back to the widest part of the frog
4. Frogs should be left as full as possible
5. Hoof must be level
6. Angle from fetlock joint to ground should approximate that of shoulder
7. Angle from fetlock to ground should be smooth and not have a bump at hairline
8. Shoes should come to back of bar next to frog.
9. Nails should not be placed on the back ¼ of the hoof toward the heel.

Horses trimmed in this manner will be sound. There are some horses who have a natural problem with their feet in which case corrective measures need to deviate from time to time from this pattern. But most corrective shoeing necessary today is only to correct a problem created by poor hoof care in the beginning.

In gaited horses some people feel a special way of trimming is necessary. Not so. Yes, leaving the toe long, or trimming it short or raising a heal etc can change the breakover time and the timing of the gait. However, if the horse is bred properly to do a specific gait these measures are not needed. I would ask how important is it to you to change the gait…enough to lame the horse? Would it not be more pleasant for all concerned to ride the gait the horse does naturally rather than make him hurt in order to conform to a gait he is not naturally given to perform




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