Hoof walls serve a similar function to human fingernails: as protective barriers against bumping against objects and constantly growing out like human fingernails do, hoof walls play an essential role in transmitting pressure from hooves to ground surface.
Soak the hoof in water to soften and loosen any mud from it, before using a hoof knife to trim away any excessive growth.
The Hoof Wall
Hoof walls are hard, horny outer coverings that support and protect delicate structures inside, as well as helping transfer energy between foot and ground. Although it does not contain nerves or blood vessels, hoof walls continue to expand – growing by approximately three-eighths of an inch each month.
The wall of a hoof consists of three layers. The pigmented outer layer, known as the periople, serves as the strongest part and acts as an effective water sealant, helping prevent excessive flaking or cracking. The middle layer consists of tougher and more fibrous keratin that contains tubular horn rods while its inner laminar layer includes interdigitating horn which contains parts of the horse’s circulatory system.
Viewed from the side, or laterally, the hoof capsule should form an unbroken line from heel point through coronary band and onto ground in front of pastern. Frog and digital cushion above hoof wall should also be concave to allow expansion at heels while dampen concussive vibrations created when horse walks.
As with any structure, the hoof capsule may become deviated from its ideal shape and function due to poor foot conformation or nutritional imbalances, leading to deviations that only become worse with neglect and excess growth. Therefore, horses must stand quietly during trimming for the most comprehensive and accurate trim possible.
The sole of a hoof is a soft, flexible structure designed to protect the inner structures of the hoof capsule and underlying bones. A healthy sole should be slightly concave, barely touching the ground when your horse walks; over time however, constant walking on hard surfaces may cause bruised soles as well as internal parts of the hoof capsule.
The goal of barefoot trimming is to emulate the natural hoof shape found in healthy wild horse herds. Our aim is to maintain hooves with an easy breakover position and encourage feet to wear in a straight, correct line; any deviations from this ideal are only made worse with neglect and excess growth; regular trimming is therefore key for maintaining optimal hoof health.
As with the walls, sole care must be handled with extreme diligence. The frog serves as the blood pump in a hoof and must remain intact to function efficiently. Over-trimming of this vital structure may result in laminitis – an excruciating and potentially lethal condition wherein your horse’s hoof capsule sinks into its sole of foot and necessitates surgical removal to halt further debilitation of his hooves.
If your horse is barefoot, regular trimming will be required depending on its surroundings and general fitness and health. A farrier can provide guidance in this matter and inspect for common problems such as thrush, white line disease and cracking that may arise in their hoof care routines.
Wild horses use their frog as a blood pump to move hoof material up and down their hooves in order to gain traction on uneven terrain, while domesticated horses’ excessive growth of the frog may prove hazardous in terms of blocking healthy sole development or creating strong heels.
Trimming hooves requires careful examination of each foot, in order to assess how much needs to be removed. Overtrimming can leave horses sore and in pain; once cleaned and soaked, it’s easier to identify which parts need trimming.
Kneeling to hold the hoof and using both hands to hold a rasp ensures you are in an effective and safe position for hoof work. As it can be easy to file too much at one time, use the white line on the hoof as your guide so as not to file away sensitive sole and frog areas of the foot.
Farriers can square off the toe of a hoof to improve breakover and encourage healthy boney column development, helping young horses attain soundness and balanced hoof growth. Regular trimming sessions should take place every four to six weeks depending on hoof growth for this goal to be reached successfully.
The heel is the point at which the hoof meets sole and wall. Like its counterpart, frog, it serves to pump blood throughout the hoof and needs to be treated as such in order to avoid excessive trimming.
Like with the sole, this area should also be checked carefully for cracks or anomalies which require attention. Furthermore, it’s vitally important that one can accurately ascertain how long the outer hoof wall is relative to sole and frog so that appropriate trims may be made.
If you are new to trimming, it is wise to consult an experienced farrier before trying it on your own. Furthermore, only attempt two hooves at a time so as to not become overwhelmed or exhausted during sessions and ensure your horse does not tire of having its feet touched by you – this will increase chances of having more consent for future trimming sessions!