Tuesday 13 August 2013

The unimportance of trimming (or Smart work, O'Neil)

O'Neil has been here for just over 3 weeks. There are several factors which many would think militate against him working barefoot. He is a thoroughbred, he is a big chap (over 17hh) and he had weak feet which weren't comfortable in shoes and certainly weren't immediately able to stomp about on hard surfaces out of shoes. 
Day one, with long toes and under-run heels made worse by the fact that he had gone longer between shoeing intervals than normal. 
The same foot today with a shorter toe and more supportive heel (check out the hairline for confirmation). 

And he has done all this himself, with a little help from the tracks. Even though he arrived with long feet I have done no trimming. 

Why? Because (as always with horses like O'Neil who arrive with palmar hoof pain and long term lameness) the biggest problem isn't the extra hoof which could be trimmed off but the weak internal structures which need to develop.  And you can't build those except with time and work on stimulating but supportive surfaces. 
If you don't believe me, take a look at the difference in his frogs over a 3 week period. Its a response to stimulus which has made the difference, not human interference with a knife or rasp.

A stronger frog is the best way to build support for the palmar hoof from the inside out so perhaps its not surprising that O'Neil's heels are less under-run today than they were initially.
Trimming is all very well (provided it leaves the horse sounder) but its a tiny part of what makes up a healthy hoof. With a foot like O'Neil's its more productive to let him wear off the long toe with better movement and at the same time rebuild and stimulate his weak palmar hoof. 
A trim could instantly shorten the toe and put him back on his palmar hoof but without strengthening it first the result would most likely be a less comfortable horse.

By allowing him to wear his own feet over the last 3 weeks he has with each step been able to improve his under-run heels and develop his palmar hoof at the same time as shortening the toe; he is becoming more, rather than less, comfortable on tougher surfaces.
There is still a long way to go, of course, but O'Neil is certainly heading in the right direction. 
There was an interesting article posted by Tomas Teskey, a US vet, on Facebook this week, and it included a paragraph which for me sums up the limitations of trimming: 

"Realize that your hand tools are taking the place of the terrain that would normally shape the hooves, and that you are providing this service "for free". 

Within minutes, you have changed the shape of the horse's foundation, and the horse didn't have to expend more than a few calories to balance on three legs at a time. 

Therefore no callousing has been imparted, no concussion experienced to stimulate internal structures, no opportunity for the thousands upon thousands of landings and breakovers, little to no physical exertion for the body, less stimulation for the nervous system, vastly diminished volumes of blood that would have passed through the hooves... ...

Can you better appreciate the importance of your job as a trimmer and the responsibility you have not to trim too much?"
Horses can make big improvements to their hooves in an incredibly short period of time - but that's usually the result of their movement, not our trimming. 

There are certainly times when trimming is appropriate but they are far, far less frequent than we imagine!


cptrayes said...

almost unbelievable that he did that in only three weeks. great work!!


Karen W. said...

Fantastic article, thank you!!!

Unknown said...

Thats very interesting! Because my startet to reshape his Hindfeed just over the last weekend.I've been last Friday, that his Toes behind got really long and probably need trimming. And on Saturday he had broken the first big Bit off, followed by more in the last two days.Seeing the new Shape now, I thought, my Trimmer could'nt have done it any better.Thank God, Ive started reading your Bloqs about Selftrimming. Otherwise it would have probaly thrown me in a nervous Fit. We are now starting walking more on different Surfaces.Road and Peagravel he's now quite comfy, big gravel not quite yet. Thanx again for your Bloqs.

Dom said...

Now these are dramatic! Viewed them all full size and kept flipping from before to after and back again. Wow.

Nic Barker said...

I know, Dom and C, I find it hard to believe myself - keep having to check its the same horse on the comparison shots!

BruceA said...

:-) Fantastic - clever chap O'Neil!
It's interesting to watch the outright hostility to this concept of self trimming from the trimming community.

Nic Barker said...

Yes, Bruce - I am not sure why its so controversial - maybe the suspicion that your horse knows way better than you do is tough for some people to swallow but since I've been dealing with Felix' superiority for years it came pretty naturally to me :-)

cptrayes said...

I remember the EP who told you Felix's feet were what, a four out of ten ?, and that if you carried on the good work he might soon be capable of some good work. I think you omitted to tell him that Felix was already hunting full days on Exmoor?

I'm also puzzled why it's so controversial to listen to the horse that doesn't want symmetric or classically shaped feet.


Nic Barker said...

LOL! Well remembered C :-) Yes, he told me that on no account should Felix do any work until his frog was lower than his heels - thought he was wearing his heels away too much.

If I'd listened to him instead of my perfectly sound, rock-crunching horse we would still be hand-walking instead of having thousands and thousands of miles under those hooves!

JINI said...

FANTASTIC article!! Thank you so much for sharing and for illustrating with such great photos so we can see exactly what you're talking about.