Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Trimming, chinese whispers and listening to the horse

I think it must be human nature to try to simplify things ad infinitum.  Perhaps we prefer concepts to be black and white because it makes them easier to understand; perhaps we like to abbreviate because of laziness or lack of understanding or perhaps the detail just gets lost as the message gets passed along from one person to another. The problem is that not everything can be reduced to a soundbite or a one word answer without some big losses.
Trimming hooves is a really good example. Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I have posted a lot in the past about the dangers of over-trimming. You also know that most of the big changes that happen to the hooves on the rehab horses here happen without any trimming at all. 

I suppose its therefore no surprise that some people over-simplify - one classic quote online recently came from a lady who claimed I said "trimming was evil"(!) - and its fairly common for a minority of trimmers and farriers to get hot under the collar about lack of trimming, even though the horses here are becoming sounder rather than lamer with this non-intervention. Perhaps the thing they are missing is that its not about trimming, its about soundness.

Anyway, for those who are newer to this blog I thought it was about time for a quick summary of what I think are the most important guidelines about trimming - when its helpful and when its most definitely not. 

The soundness of the horse is the be all and end all. Any trim which compromises that is a mistake -  its never a good idea to lame a horse today in the name of some hypothetical future benefit. Equally, a trim which leaves the horse sounder is a good thing - so trimming isn't necessarily evil ;-) 
Humans LOVE to fiddle,  LOVE pretty things and LOVE instant gratification  - and trimming (or, I suppose, shoeing) is the only way to make an immediate difference to how a hoof looks and to make it pretty. It fulfils the need to fiddle as well, so no surprise that we are hooked on it.
The internet also has a plethora of hoof pictures and all of us would prefer our horses' hooves to look smart rather than ugly BUT although its very easy to lame a horse with a poor trim its much, much rarer to improve their soundness with a trim. Be very, very careful before you rely on a rasp or knife to give you a healthier hoof - and let soundness, not appearance, be your guide. After all, you can only remove hoof capsule with a trim - and what most hooves desperately need is more strength, more structure, not less.
For farriers - and trimmers too - there is a lot of pressure to make hooves conform in appearance; some  also have a perception that as a professional they need to "do" something with a rasp in order to earn their money; some have an indoctrinated belief that the horse will fall over and stop functioning unless they come along and trim it every few weeks.

In my experience its fine for them to trim PROVIDED that the horse's soundness is never compromised as a result but - here's the thing - if you are paying for the services of a hoofcare professional there should be so much more you can get from them - advice on nutrition and biomechanics, brainstorming on exercise and gait analysis and tips on how to optimise your horse's environment.

As an owner, you should be paying for their time, expertise and advice not just their handiness with tools; the former is so much more essential than the latter if you want help to optimise your horse's hoof health.
Here is something which may surprise you. Horses' feet really don't need as much help from humans  - particularly in terms of trimming - as we've always thought. Trimming is a visible intervention but its so much less relevant to a healthy hoof than a good diet and a few miles of roadwork. You could trim a weak hoof every 4 weeks for a year and it never improve as much as it would with an optimal diet and better biomechanics over the same timescale. Thats the limitation of trimming.

Just as hard-working horses will grow hoof capsule faster, so horses who aren't in work will slow down their rate of hoof growth provided that they have some access to varied surfaces.
I haven't trimmed our hard-working hunters for years, but equally I haven't trimmed Tegan the broodmare either, and she isn't in work at all. She can stomp about on the tracks for part of the day but also spends lots of time in the field. She has a good diet and the cracks and poor landing she had when she arrived have steadily improved, even without additional exercise. Her hoof health has improved, but not because of trimming. 
There will always be a multitude of vociferous opinions online, in your yard or from your friends and neighbours about how your horse's feet should look, whether he should be shod or not, what work he should be doing and and how you should be looking after him. Some of these opinions will be good, some of them will be rubbish and its up to you to disregard the nonsense and use the sensible stuff.
So how do you go about selecting good over bad? For me, there is only one safe way. Listen to your horse and trust what he is showing you about his health, his happiness - and his soundness - above anything which the "experts" tell you. Your horse is the ultimate expert on his own hooves and if he is anything like most of the horses I see here, he already knows how to grow healthy feet - he just needs to be allowed to get on and do it. 

For those who are interested, some of my older posts about trimming (or not) are here, and you can also search the blog or look at the "Key blog posts" page at the top of the blog. 


cptrayes said...

I could not believe a comment on Horse and Hound Online a couple of weeks ago.

'I'm trying to keep him barefoot behind but last time he came my farrier said there was nothing to trim off, so he might have to shoe him'

Are some people so wedded to the idea that there must be growth to remove that they think the horse is ill if their is none????

dreams579 said...

Mac is now about 5 weeks into being completely barefoot (backs came off about 2 months ago), and when my trimmer saw him last, his invaluable advice was that for the next 3 months his feet are going to look really ugly. So I could either turn him out in a field and forget about him for a bit, or just not look down!

which for someone like me who understands about 'ugly feet' that's not an issue, but really wouldn't be great for someone new to barefoot!

ester said...

CP, I had that exact conversation with a friend a couple of weeks back (first time she has had one completely unshod- came to her like that) and farrier had pointed out that there was very little to take off (don't think he mentioned shoeing though to give him his due) so she was a bit worried/thinking about shoeing. I asked if horse was sound and comfy and if yes stop worrying!

Anonymous said...

Very nice post -thank you! I'm fortunate to have a trimmer - all three of mine are barefoot - who is a minimalist - if little or nothing needs doing, that's what he does.

amandap said...

Great reminder Nic! So many humans see hooves as separate from the whole horse and almost as none living structures to be molded to our ideas and eye!