Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guest Post - How To Tell If Your Hoof Care Provider Is Doing a Good Job?

While I'm away at the Mark Rashid clinic, I thought you might enjoy a guest post. I asked Mrs Mom over at Oh Horsefeathers & Related Twisted "Tails" if she would do a guest post to answer a question I think many of us have - how do you tell if your hoof care provider - whether your horses are barefoot or shod - is doing a good job? Here's her post, in her own words:

Not that long ago, Kate was kind enough to invite me to do a guest post for her covering how we as horse owners can tell if our hoof care providers are doing the best job for our horses.

Which at first glance, seems like a straight forward subject. Except when you delve deeper into hoof care, you begin to realize that while it is not rocket science, it can be quite difficult for owners to wade through.

I don't have a simple answer for you, but I'll help you begin to know where to look, and what to look for.

First, let's take a look at hoof care in general. The tradition for several hundred years has been to shoe. However, the past twenty years or so, an extensive amount of research has gone into hoof form, function and health, and how hoof care providers can better serve the horses in their practice by using different trim methods, and leaving the shoes hanging on a wall somewhere. (They do make incredible art work pieces.) Take a look at your situation: is your horse bare and loving it, bare and neither of you are loving it, or shod and trimmed in a traditional manner? There are different things to look at in each respect.

First, if you have a barefoot horse and a hoof care provider who specializes in barefoot hoof care, you are going to see a tremendously different hoof than those who are in either of the other categories. If your barefoot hoof care provider is doing their job correctly, you will notice the following:

  • Better quality of movement
  • Reduction/elimination of soundness issues
  • Healthier looking hooves, with stronger wall, wider heels and healthy functioning frogs, and tight white lines
  • Overall physical changes in the body - if the horse can move better, their body will change for the better as well.
Immediately post trim in this situation, your horse should not be sore or lame for any amount of time, UNLESS you are in a rehabilitative stage and your horse is in recovery from injury/illness. Even then, the lameness should be addressed then and there by your hoof care provider, with suggestions for a course of action planned and implemented with the owner/primary handler. (These might be the addition of boots, various sole treatments, thrush treatments or abscess treatments to name a few.)

If your barefoot trimmer is pushing the limits and your horse seems to have an issue or is developing an issue, you might see this:

  • Persistent lameness issues (such as chronic abscessing)
  • Refusal to move on the part of the horse for 36 plus hours post trim
  • Heat in the hooves/possible laminitic incident
  • Tight muscles and pain indicators, such as a disposition change
  • Behavior changes - if your horse goes from a hoof care provider's dream to a hoof care provider's nightmare, there IS a problem.
Overly aggressive trimming, though thought by some trimmers to be necessary to reach the end goal, can and does routinely cause permanent issues, lameness, and there have been deaths. Be very aware of how your horse is reacting during work. Watch his body language closely for negative behavior. Do NOT be afraid to STOP work, if your horse is telling you that something is wrong. Do NOT let the hoof care provider buffalo you into allowing the work to continue, and make you feel as if you are not qualified to distinguish between your horse misbehaving "just because", and your horse showing you he is in pain. If you feel there is a problem, STOP.

If your horse is barefoot, but trimmed in the traditional manner, chances are neither one of you will be overly happy about how he travels, or the quality of movement over varying terrain.

Wait - what is the difference between a traditional trim, and a proper barefoot trim? Very quickly speaking -

  • A traditional trim, often known as a "pasture trim", will leave the entire wall of the hoof weight bearing. None or very little of the sole will be addressed, nor will the heels be leveled and balanced.
  • In a barefoot trim, the walls and sole are trimmed in a manner in accordance with the internal structures of the hoof, allowing all portions of the hoof and leg to work together to dissipate the energy created upon movement. Once conditioned, these hooves are incredibly tough and resilient, and more than capable of covering an incredible amount of rough ground.

Now, if your horse is shod:

  • There MUST be a good trim in place before the shoe is shaped to fit the hoof
  • The shoe needs to be checked, rechecked, and care taken to make sure IT is created to fit each foot - not the other way around
  • Nails MUST stay out of living tissue (not to the inside of the white line)
  • Nails must be clean and clinched well, but clinches do not need to be driven into the hoof wall

A few general tips to look for in the hoof care provider:

  • Who did they study with? In this age of continuing education, college for horse shoeing is not all it should be. Your best bet for hoof care is someone who took the time to serve an apprenticeship, either with a barefoot specialist or a Guild of Professional Farriers Master rated farrier for shoes, instead of someone who took a six-week course and jumped into practice on their own. If I had to find someone to trim my horse, the primary name I'd listen for [in the hoof care provider's history] is Pete Ramey.
  • How long was their apprenticeship? How long have they been out on their own?
  • Does the hoof care provider return phone calls/e-mails?
  • Does the hoof care provider call if they are running late?
  • How does s/he interact with your horse - with kindness and empathy, or brusque aggressiveness?
  • Are they willing to answer questions and explain things as they go? Or are they willing to set up extra time to explain things? (You'll probably pay a bit extra for that, but it is worth it when you have a highly educated provider.)
  • Where do they stand on continuing education? Do they attend conferences and lectures/seminars?
The big question is how do you know if your hoof care provider is actually doing the best job for your horse, and your particular situation?

Once again, this is not a simple answer, as it requires you as the owner to take a hard look at the entire situation for the horse. The best way to find out if your horse is getting the best care is to spend time yourself doing a bit of basic research. The amount of information available on the internet is mind-boggling, but it is a good place to begin. Read as much as you can. Examine as many photos as you can. Examine your horse closely. Look at other horses, and try to understand what you see.

The best thing you can do is to listen to your horse, and your instincts. Give yourself credit for the time you spend reading and doing research. Do not let someone spoon feed you information - get out there and actively seek it out for yourself. Most of all, listen to and watch the horses around you, as they are the best teachers.

If your horse has persistent lameness issues, then it is time to find another provider. If your horse continues to improve and move better, and stay sounder, you are on the right track. Remember - if you do not have a healthy foundation, your house (or horse in this case) will crumble.

Many thanks to Mrs Mom for all the hard work and thought she put into this guest post! She is a thoughtful and informed proponent for good barefoot trimming, and I have to date kept several of my horses in front shoes, but I think her comments and thoughts are useful to all of us, whether are horses are barefoot or shod. I learn a lot every time I read her thoughtful posts about hoof care, and I'm looking to learn more from her in the future.


  1. I liked this.....My HCP! Or farrier, does and always has done, a great job. Only in his late twenties, he is fully qualified, and extremely good with my horses. The previous farrier, was good at his job too, but on a particular occasion he hit my mare with his ball hammer in the chest. She(the mare) was in season, as I had already explained to him, and she a little impatient. As she is, when she is! That was why I dumped him.

    The new guy, been with him for a year now, takes time out to handle the horses, is never in a rush, and chats about all kinds as he works, even answers questions at no cost!

    He charges per horse for hot shoeing, £55.00, thats about $84 dollars?
    For a trim? about £25, or $40?

    He is good value and very competitent.
    There are`nt many here who ride barefoot.

  2. excellent post ! Thanks Mrs Mom! And Kate
    "For the lack of a hoof ,the horse was lost"
    I know that quote should say shoe ,but...

  3. Thanks, Kate and Mrs. Mom. This post is timely for me! When I got my guy last year, I was new to everything and I watched the farrier, used by my stables, trim my boy's feet (he's barefoot) a couple of times to make sure I liked him - I did. My BO brings in the horses that are signed up for a trim, so it's been a year since I visited the stables when my guy was getting a trim. Next week I am visiting the stables again to watch the farrier. I have no complaints about the trim, but I want him to know that I care and that I appreciate the job he does and to give him an opportunity to chat with me. Our farrier is very pleasant and always willing to chat about hooves. :-)

  4. I typed out a long response and blogger ate it. I will sum it up by saying hoof care is a topic very near and dear to me. Currently both of my riding horses (low level dressage and jumping up to 3'6") are bare. One of them will probably wind up shod eventually but for now I am using glue on boots with a pour in pad on her.

    I see a lot of horses in shoes that don't need them. I see even more horses with very poor shoeing jobs and in these cases the need for shoes becomes self perpetuating. The underlying trim is so bad that the second the shoes are removed the horse becomes crippled and the cycle just goes on - until eventually the shoe isn't enough to provide relief for the horse and things really fall apart. I know because I was there several years ago and my journey of learning all about hoof care started.

    I would say I think a lot more horses could go bare if they had a better farrier but on the same hand some horses do need shoes in order to comfortably do what we ask of them. The key, and the hard part, is learning enough to know if your horse is uncomfortable bare b/c of the trim/poor farrier work or not.

  5. Excellent post. I know that as a horse owner I have never like having the farrier out. Most of the time they were these gruff old men and I just wanted to hide from them. I have asked one farrier to just stop working on my horse after one hoof. he was horrible. Now I work with two farriers and enjoy both of them. They have different styles but I feel very comfortable with them both.

  6. Thank you to Mrs. Mom for an informative and helpful post, and thank you to Kate for inviting such a wonderful, experienced, and helpful person like Mrs. Mom to guest post on your blog :)


  7. Thank you Kate and Mrs. Mom for this great and informative post!

    There is one other thing I look for, mainly because I have a heavy draft... Does the farrier have experience and knowledge to trim a draft. How many drafts does s/he trim? Does s/he use stocks. My current farrier, I switched in January is very experienced in draft trimming. He takes his time and does not automatically use stocks. He tries without first. There are 5 drafts at the barn I board at and he does not use stocks on any of them.

    He's barefoot trimmed my paint mare who in the past has had to be shod, this summer she is not and is sound!!!!

    A good farrier is worth his/her weight in gold and then some in my opinion.

  8. I'm quite saddened at the way this article slams a "traditional trim" implying that only "barefoot trimmers" know how to properly trim a hoof. Any decent farrier will do a much better barefoot trim than the "traditional trim" she describes then flames in this article. The "traditional trim" she describes is NOT traditional at all. This is a classic debate tactic, to define something bad as normal, then proceed to claim that what is/was normal is bad. The true traditional trim is not what she describes, and is not bad for the horse.

    The difference between a traditional trim and a barefoot trim is mostly in the finish - in what you see on the top of the hoof. Barefoot trimmers must do something to set their craft apart from farriers, so they finish with a "mustang roll" etc. Most horses don't experience any difference in their hoof shape or soundness if they are trimmed by a competent farrier or by a "barefoot trimmer".

    This article goes on and on about weight bearing surfaces, but fails to address the most important aspect of any trim or shoeing job, which is BALANCE. If the weight bearing plane of the hoof (ground surface) is not properly aligned under the bones of the hoof and leg, all the weight bearing surfaces will be under stress which will manifest in flare, sore heels, bruises, abscesses, lameness, etc. I've seen a lot of "barefoot" trims that are not balanced. This is particularly the case with people who went to a weekend clinic to learn to trim their own horses, then decided to become "barefoot trimmers". It take a lot more training to understand all the structures of the hoof (and thus how to properly and safely trim the hoof) than most people realize.

  9. Anonymous - Always appreciate comments, although if you could put in some identifier - say a name, even a screen name, that would be appreciated. I actually think you and Mrs. Mom agree on more than you think - there are bad and good farriers and good and bad barefoot trimmers, and there are folks out there who call themselves barefoot trimmers who do bad things to horses' feet. That said, I've had horses with shoes and without - I've got two in front shoes and three retired horses that are barefoot, so I've got no axe to grind on this subject. I think what Mrs. Mom calls a pasture trim is what the foot looks like bare when it's prepped for a shoe - in my experience if the horse is to be bare and in work more is needed, and the hoof will change over time if a horse is bare in ways that are somewhat different than how the hoof grows when the horse is shod. Your point about balance in the foot is a good one and I think both good farriers and good barefoot trimmers pay attention to that.

    The point of the post in my mind was to indicate how important to find a hoof care provider that you can work with well, who treats your horses well and who is knowledgeable in whatever style of hoof care you prefer. Mrs. Mom has opinions on these matters and I don't think any of us have to agree with every detail of what she has to say on every topic in order to find a lot of what she says pretty useful.

    But thanks for stopping by!

  10. What Mrs. Mom says at the beginning about the hallmarks of a good "barefoot trim" are absolutely just as true about a "traditional trim" or shoeing. Any horse who's hooves are well shaped and balanced for their own particular confirmation will move better, stay sound, grow healthy hoof wall and be a happier horse. Caring for a horse's feet should always be about what is best for them in their domestic environment whether that's traditional farriery or barefoot trimming.


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