Natural Barefoot Trimming and Hoof Care
Our philosophy of hoof care is to balance the entire animal by balancing the horse’s hooves, nutrition, environment and trust. All three of these factors work synergistically to enable the horse to have a happy, pain-free attitude making him a willing partner for you.
Having been trained and mentored directly under Ove Lind, our philosophy for a healthy horse is to assist the domesticated horse to develop the balanced hoof that it would have were it given the opportunity to live, move, and graze in a natural environment. This approach requires trimming the foot to remove what the horse cannot remove on its own in confined living quarters and without the horse having access to the varieties of food and the freedom of movement that would wear and maintain its feet naturally.
We were originally trained through The Swedish Hoof School natural hoof care techniques in our hoof care practice. We came across them, and the school’s founder Ove Lind, while actively looking for a better way to care for our own horses. After seeing the dramatic improvement in our horses, we shared our discovery with friends and out of that grew the natural hoof care rehab and maintenance service. After 15 years of having more than 180 horses on our books, our bodies said it was time to retire from professional trimming.
With careful study, these techniques can be learned by anyone. We encouraged our clients to become proficient themselves so that they can take over the care of their horse’s hooves if they choose. At the very least, with the knowledge gained, an educated owner will have the know-how and confidence to be proactive with their horses’ hoof care and ensure that their horses’ feet remain healthy and balanced under the care of a skilled hoof care practitioner.
Cornerstones of the Swedish Hoof School philosophy
- Every hoof should be protected in exactly the manner that it needs to be at all times
- No man can create a perfect hoof. Our work is simply to help the horse to grow a healthy hoof
- Every hoof is unique and has its own natural shape. This is why you can't have any fixed measurements
- Man has no right to enforce their opinion about what hooves “should” look like
- Hoof shape is dynamic and changes over time according to its environment and state of health
- You are never, ever allowed to trim the hard sole
- The bars are hoof wall and must be trimmed us such.
- Eating habits are just as important as trimming when it comes to sound hooves
The bars of the hoof are simply a continuation of the hoof wall. They function as a support element for the inner structure of the heel and to assist the expansion and contraction of the foot as the horse moves. They are not designed to bear weight. Bars should be straight from the buttress (hindmost portion) of the heel to the balance point (the end of the bar, behind the point of the frog) and are delineated by the white line. They grow from the inside of the foot down toward the sole.
When the bars bear weight, they either start to fold over and push the sole towards the outer wall causing flares, contracted heels, a flat foot (from the build-up of bar material which is also bruising the bottom of the foot) and heel pain as they begin to squeeze the lateral cartilages in the pinched region between the bars and the wall. They can also jam up into the foot like a splinter pressing on the sensitive heel area, causing the foot to appear “clubbed” due to the excess height of the bar.
The good thing about rehabilitating bars is that they are relatively short but still grow as fast as the hoof wall, so the bars get exchanged rather quickly. After less than three months, a new and much steeper bar should have replaced the old tilted one.
The healthy frog is a pliable, leathery pad (much like a dog’s pad) that is designed to be the first part of the foot to touch the ground in a proper heel-first landing. The frog has several important duties, none of which can be fulfilled if it is not healthy. Pivotal among its duties is its role in the circulation of blood in the foot – acting in conjunction with the deep digital cushion and the extensive vascular network in the heel region of the foot, the frog acts as a pump, supporting the function of the heart and maintaining a healthy environment for the remainder of the foot.
It is not an overstatement to say that a healthy, thrush-free frog is imperative to the health of the foot as, without proper circulation, the foot will eventually become diseased. How is it that the frog itself ceases to function and becomes diseased? Typically, the downward spiral begins when the frog is elevated off the ground by high hoof walls or by shoes, which immediately cut down and eventually eliminate the pumping action of the frog / deep digital cushion combo, resulting in poor circulation. Then, combine poor circulation with a diet and footing that are favorable to thrush, and you have a powerful recipe for painful, diseased frog that becomes, in essence, a deep, cracked and oozing wound. To protect such a wound, the horse avoids putting weight on his painful heel area, causing a pathological toe-first landing which is not only destructive to the joints, tendons, and ligaments of the foot and leg but also further reduces circulation in the vital heel area.
Many people are surprised to learn that thrush is not just an external annoyance but that it can be and often is a deeply embedded infection that has eaten away at a sizable portion of the back of the foot, including major sections of the deep digital cushion. This is really not so surprising on second look, however, when you realize that thrush is an anaerobic infection (i.e. one that thrives in an oxygen-free environment) and that tissues which have poor circulation have a poor supply of oxygen. As the horse continues to avoid putting weight on his heel, the heels grow excessively long and start to contract in width, constricting the tissues in the heel just as a vice would, causing further pain and malfunction of the heel. This destructive cycle continues to worsen until, as is so often the case, the horse is diagnosed with navicular syndrome, ringbone or some other devastating disease and is retired (or worse) at an early age.
How do you correct a contracted, diseased frog?
The handling of a contracted, diseased frog consists essentially of eliminating the infection inside the foot and restoring ground contact to the frog. Given conditions favorable to healing, Mother Nature will do the rest. There are various treatments available for eliminating the encapsulated thrush, but we have found that the most effective involves regular cleaning and treating the frog with a product that absorbs into the frog, adequate frog pressure and controlled exercise to stimulate circulation and the regrowth of healthy frog. Soaking can be quite time consuming and cumbersome but it is very effective.
It is important that the sole and the frog are not elevated off the ground by high hoof walls or shoes, during or after the soak, as that could put added strain on laminae that may already be compromised in an unhealthy foot, so soaking is best done following a balanced trim. The bars may also need to be addressed as described in the section above, as deformed or painful bars will keep a horse out of his heels and slow rehabilitation of his frog.
To heal an infected frog, diet also needs to be addressed as the high sugar content of common feeds and blood sugar spikes from common feeding practices together create the ideal environment for encapsulated thrush and will counteract a lot of dedicated effort invested in eliminating thrush for good.
Timetable for a Successful Rehab
Natural rehabilitation does take time because we are fixing problems, not just the symptoms. However, we have found that it is typically far less expensive, much more permanent and a great deal healthier for the horse than conventional approaches. The timetable for a successful rehab depends on many things, including:
- The severity of unsoundness in the foot
- The owner’s commitment to communicate and brainstorm with the trimmer, be open-minded enough to learn, be willing to make improvements in the horse’s living conditions, exercise, diet, trimming schedules, support boots, necessary supplements and/or medications, and
- The overall condition and nature of the horse
To give you a general guideline for some of the more challenging situations to better estimate the timetable for your horse, a horse with one or more of the following can take 8-10 months or more to correct as that is a minimum amount of time it takes to grow a new hoof.
- Coffin bone rotation (founder)
- Distal descent (sinker)
- Navicular Syndrome
- Wall Cracks
- Issues such as hooves under, obesity, bad attitude, unwillingness, back pain, stiffness, ulcers, stable vices, incorrect toe axis, growth rings and ridges, stumbling, brushing, interfering, movement problems, toe first landing, flared walls, asymmetrical hooves, under-run heels, high heels, skinny frogs, fissured frogs, contracted heels, flat soles, white line disease, and thrush may very well be solved by a correct, balanced, natural trim combined with proper diet and exercise
The road to a naturally sound foot begins with the first step. We are pleased to be able to share this powerful knowledge and methodology with you and are honored to be part of your horse’s return to natural soundness.
* Photos, graphics and some content courtesy of The Swedish Hoof School