Thursday, 19 June 2014

3 reasons to trim your horse? Are you sure?

I post a lot about horses self-trimming and in fact this blog has got something of a reputation for that, which I guess is inevitable, but its a fact that many owners, trimmers and farriers find the concept of a self-trimming horse controversial.

So when I put up a post like Tuesday's blog - a cautionary tale similar to many others I have heard before and blogged about before - it can still cause strong feelings for and against.

As ever, the people who are most sceptical about horses self-trimming are those who have little or no experience of it. By contrast most owners who have tried it have been pleasantly surprised by how well it suits their horses and how much sounder they often become - which in itself speaks volumes!
So today's post is an attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions about self-trimming and when its a realistic option.

1. "Without a "balanced" trim horses will suffer injury or lameness".

When I posted Tuesday's blog there was an outraged comment made on FB by someone who, I suspect is a trimmer; it may not have been intended as such but it came across as a classic piece of scaremongering:

"It is dangerous in this domestic world to encourage horse owners to neglect balanced timely trims as very few horses get enough exercise to wear off growth, especially imbalanced heels and overly long breakovers. This puts a huge stress on the entire limb/thus the whole structure, and in upper level movements, over time, can lead to ringbone, side bone, and navicular problems from torque on the inner structures. "

I don't know how many horses this person has rehabbed but I can guarantee that every single horse which comes here for rehab has tendon and ligament damage. Its documented on MRI in most of them and has been demonstrated by scans and nerve blocks in the rest.
Most also have the "imbalanced heels" and "long breakovers" which this trimmer feared. Lets also add in medio-lateral imbalances (very common), under-developled palmar hooves (100%) and conformational issues (very common). Most have also been regularly trimmed or shod - it is certainly not neglect which has led to these injuries.
One of the things which doesn't happen when horses are here is trimming. So what dreadful consequences occur?
  • Even with modest amounts of movement horses self-trim (bear in mind these are lame horses - at least initially - so they are not covering huge mileage). 
  • All horses develop healthier feet - particularly improved dorso-palmar and medio-lateral balance and more robust digital cushions and frogs. 
  • Long breakovers and imbalanced heels correct themselves - at the horse's pace - and in response to stimulus and loading, meaning that internal structures strengthen at the same time.
  • Horses become steadily sounder as tendon and ligament injuries heal and most return to the same level of work or higher than before they went lame
And here's the clincher - most horses then go home from rehab to normal yards (see below!) and continue to improve even when they aren't trimmed and they aren't on our tracks...In fact its far, far more common for problems to arise following a trim than because a horse hasn't been trimmed - there are some interesting statistics in this post

Sure, horses with untrimmed feet may look untidy to our eyes but it rarely causes a problem with soundness unless there is also something else (eg laminitis) going on as well. Over-zealous trimming, on the other hand, is a frequent cause of lameness.
The problem, as always, is that trimming is a one-trick-pony. A trim can only ever take away hoof wall or (heaven forbid) bar, sole or frog. Most horses don't go lame because of having too much of any of these and - given even limited access to harder surfaces than a soft field - are more than capable of dealing with an excess very efficiently. This is why trimming as a tool for improving soundness has big limitations. 

2.  "Most horses can't manage in a domestic environment without trimming".

This is the commonest reason why most owners believe their horses need trimming and why their horses could never self-trim. The phrases I hear and read all the time are "my horse doesn't do high mileage"; "my horse only works once or twice a week" and "I don't have a track for my horses like you do at Rockley".
With that in mind, here are a few facts for you to ponder.
  • Most ex-rehab horses are self-trimming on normal livery yards. No-one has the sorts of tracks at home that we have here. Generally consistent work on varied surfaces is all they need. 
  • Hooves are incredibly dynamic. They grow in response to stimulus, not at a pre-determined rate. Change work levels and growth levels will change too - so self-trimming is possible both for hard-working horses and horses in light work.
  • Even horses in no work can self-trim. Our broodmare and her foal were completely self-trimming despite never going out on the roads and having no access to our tracks, which we needed for the rehab horses. Instead they had turn out in a small concrete yard and the fields - that was all - but on a balanced diet* even this limited mileage and stimulus was enough for healthy hooves which never needed a trim and never chipped or flared.
* And this is VERY important.

3.  "My horse needs trimming every few weeks or the feet become long and flared even though he is in light work".

Well, its certainly a possibility that the feet are over-growing because the trimming is interfering with their ability to match growth levels to the mileage they are being asked to do. 
After all, a trim will replicate many, many miles of wear, which would normally happen over several days or weeks, in just a few moments and the hoof is bound to respond. This can lead to the hoof putting out far more growth than it needs, simply because the trim was too much stimulus in too short a time  (big thanks to Bruce who first put this idea into my head!).

In response to increased mileage (stimulus) the healthy hoof will compensate by increasing growth rates and in response to less stimulus, growth rates will slow down. You can see how growth rates could be confused in a horse who is doing low mileage (so little stimulus on a daily basis) but having regular trims (huge spikes in stimulus for a few minutes every month).
Hooves are evolved to cope with changes in stimulus and can grow very fast, if they are doing high mileage over tough terrain, or very slowly, if they are doing low mileage on easy ground - but they cope best with with steady changes, which a trim doesn't allow.

 If you regularly trim your horse try tapering off the trimming and keeping everything else consistent - you may be surprised how well he adapts. 

And if you are worried about flaring, check and double-check your horse's diet and have a read of this post too:

Finally, there is nothing wrong with trimming* but you may find its not as necessary or as beneficial as you first thought.

*Provided that you follow the golden rule: the horse must  be as sound or sounder (over ALL terrain) after the trim as before and the way he lands and loads his foot must be as good or better after the trim.


Rikke Rørbæk Olsen said...

Fantastic post! You provide a seemingly never-ending stream of eye-openers!

Thank you.

Nic Barker said...

Thank you Rikke :-) Glad you find it useful!

Nic Barker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BruceA said...

Great post Nic. I keep telling folks that NOT trimming for a spell is as valid a horse care decision as trying a different supplement, and equally reversible if it doesn't work out (which it probably will). Special mention needs to made of laminitics though - they are an exception to the rule really and do need immensely well thought out trimming at the right time, because they ARE repairing hoof and proliferating horn they cannot wear. However it may only take a few swipes of the rasp to push a laminitis candidate over the edge.

amandap said...

Fabulous post Nic.

"My horse needs trimming every few weeks or the feet become long and flared even though he is in light work".
As well as trimming probably speeding up growth I have foud over the years with my lot who are only very light or no work that the ouple whose hooves grow very fast at times are the ones with metabolic/diet issues. For eg. I have three mini Shetlands one has EMS and her hooves can grow at a phenominal rate when she isn't stable but the other two rarely need a trim at all despite no work. So for me speed of growth/persistent long toes/splat hooves etc. can be linked to metabolic and or diet issues.

amandap said...

Sorry for missing characters, my keyboard is bust and I can't modify.

Nic Barker said...

Agreed, Bruce and Amanda, that laminitics/EMS is a special case - but as you've said requires almost even more care as a trim can trigger an attack so easily.

I'm also posting this great comment which Steve Leigh put on Facebook and which I love.

"I completely agree and people ask me why as a ‘trimmer’ I do and so strongly – Simply because its ALWAYS about more than the hooves and acknowledging the critical importance of whether what is happening is a ‘cause’ or a ‘symptom’ (its usually the latter btw.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trimming IF it leaves the horse moving at the very least the same or ideally better than it was before but I would (and do) take soundness over aesthetics every time and I know the horse would, they really don’t care what they look like as long as they work.
It is after all for their benefit we are working, hooves are there to do a job, a very tough job, they aren’t a piece of static sculpture, pretty feet on a sound hard working horse is fantastic to see and a good barometer to the overall health and bio mechanics, a hard working horse with deviations that is still sound is usually growing those deviations to stay sound, remove them and you remove its ability to support an issue elsewhere, when deviations occur they will often disappear after physio, saddle or diet change or when whatever the cause was has been resolved, the difference is the horse stays sound whilst this is happening and if the cause is never pinpointed often the deviation will remain and the horse will still be sound, I’ll take that over a lame horse with pretty feet any day.

A horse should never be sore after a trim if it wasn’t before and if its sore before a trim you need to be sure why your intervening anyway, its simply not logical to lame a horse now because you perceive something may lame it in the future – all you will do is make the horse move wrongly, probably cause a physical issue or compensation somewhere else as the horse braces and most likely actually CAUSE the problem you are purporting to be preventing by trimming, I would go so far as to say if you feel the need to remove enough hoof to make a horse sore then its veterinary surgery and only ever in a vets remit however good the intentions.

Basically I love a nice hoof, I'm a hoof geek so of course I do, we know that but I but I love seeing a sound happy horse more, much more , in fact that’s why I do this."

Andrea said...

Hell I *AM* a trimmer and I fully believe in self-trimming! I do this for a living, but I don't even trim my own riding horse. I just ride the snot out of her. And here's proof that it works:

Nic Barker said...

Nice one Andrea :-)

redhorse said...

I guess I should thank you for this post, because even though I do trim my horses, I find I'm doing it less and less and feeling guilty about it.
Except for the pony we have, who seems to grow hoof when she smells grass.

Julie Herold said...

What about horses who wear away too much hoof and are sore on hard og rough surfaces? Even though not having been trimmed in a couple of years... Farrier is advising shoes...

Nic Barker said...

I've never seen a horse in consistent work wear it's feet too much. They may look short but that's not usually a problem for the horse. Sore on rough ground is commonly a nutritional issue so if that's the case assess diet first, keep work levels consistent and you should be fine. If you aren't able to work your horse consistently and want to do sudden high mileage without preparation then shoes or boots are a better option than barefoot but working a horse like this will also risk other problems with horse fitness and overall health.