What is Barefoot Trimming?

To put it very simply, barefoot trimming is about simulating the wear horses' feet would get if they were free to get all the exercise they needed to keep their feet self-trimmed. Secondly I trim the foot to stimulate it to grow healthy and in the proper form for each individual foot. I do not like using the word "natural trimming" as what I do is not natural and I do not try to impose my idea of the perfect form on the foot, I am just trying to simulate what would happen in a natural setting. Remember the word simulate.

But to touch on something that is just as important, if not more important, is how the diet of the horse affects the hooves. If the diet is not correct, the horse's mineral balance will not be correct and this can have dramatic effects on the form of the hoof as well as it's condition. It is very important for the minerals to be in balance. Too much of one thing, particularly iron, or not enough of another, zinc and copper, can be detrimental. Please keep this in mind particularly if you are having trouble with brittle walls, thrush, white line issues or any condition of the foot that seems to have "been there forever" or "will not go away".

Is a barefoot trim different than leaving my horse barefoot and not trimming?

Absolutely! The exception would be if your horse lives on the type of terrain and gets adequate exercise to facilitate self-trimming (Some do!), but most domestic horses do not get enough exercise to wear their hooves sufficiently to give them the short, tight feet they would have if they were in the wild. Remember the word stimulate? Most trims performed by traditional farriers, or pasture trims, are done to add a shoe. This curtails taking all the toe callus off and not rolling the toes basically leaving a sharp edge all along the edge of the wall. In turn, trims like this can cause the toes to stretch, causing painful separation of the laminae from the wall at the toe area as well as causing the wall to chip and crack.

The equine hoof is continually growing and if that growth exceeds wear then the wall becomes too long and the hoof capsule can start to deform. The goal is to keep the feet at an optimal length. That length should change as the horse's foot becomes more healthy, but there is no perfect length. A barefoot horse left untrimmed can be just as bad off as a horse with shoes on, or a horse who is trimmed incorrectly.

In addition to keeping the length under control, a "mustang roll" is used to keep the wall from getting long and to keep the break over where it belongs. If you have seen horses with shoes, then you've probably noticed that the shoes have been worn in such a way that the toe of the shoe is rounded. This is how horses naturally wear their feet (look at the examples of wild horse cadaver feet here compared to domestic horses).

How often should my horse be trimmed?

Unlike shod horses, barefoot horses need a bit more attention so I recommend, at the most, every 5 weeks but it depends on variables like what terrain the horses are moving on, how much exercise they are getting, what their diet is like and if you are able to do any maintenance trims. All of those variables determine how fast the foot grows and wears on it's own. Seasons are also a factor as I have noticed that horses tend to grow faster in the spring and summer months than they do in the fall and winter. The goal with barefoot trimming is to encourage and maintain hoof health and if we allow the foot to go too long between trims the hoof capsule deforms and the hoof is never allowed to stabilize at its optimum form and length. Regular, frequent trimming is necessary to correct and maintain proper hoof form.

Why is my horse "Ouchy" on rocks and gravel?

Being "ouchy" is a sign that the internal structures of the hoof are not healthy. Most commonly the horse will toe walk on those surfaces, indicating pain from the digital cushion and lateral cartilages. The majority of these issues I have encountered have been more thrush related but neglect, poor shoeing and even lack of exercise can cause the digital cushion and lateral cartilages to lose mass and become weak. When that happens, as the horse puts weight on the back part of the foot, there is not enough support and they will feel pain. This is similar to you walking barefoot on gravel when you don't normally do it.

Over time, with sufficient exercise, the digital cushion and lateral cartilages rehabilitate and grow strong and tough. Just as your feet will callous and become tough if you go barefoot regularly.

How long it takes for the digital cushion/lateral cartilages to rehabilitate depends on the individual horse and even the individual feet on each horse, how weak the tissues are, and on how much exercise the horse gets. The more the better, but keep the horse comfortable. While the digital cushion is weak, ride in boots when the terrain warrants it. Stimulation is the key and movement is the key to stimulation. Some horses unfortunately, especially if they have had incorrect shoeing practices or trimming in their life time, will not be able to develop structures as well as horses that have not had this issue. Horses also that are shod at a very young age will also have issues developing these structure because being shod at an early age does not allow these structures to develop properly as the young horse is growing. Add incorrect practices to that and even more problems can develop. I have rehabilitated many a horse to live a happy healthy barefoot life.