Thursday 21 July 2011

The secret of a successful trim

I posted yesterday about the surfaces on the tracks here, and how they help horses self-trim, to a certain extent.
Several of you have commented in the past that self-trimming is not always practical and I completely agree.  For my own horses the tracks aren't enough once they switch to light work and so trimming inevitably comes into the equation.

I've also posted before about the harm that the wrong trim can do and how this is all too common.  Ironically Solomon, who was one of the horses who prompted that post, had hoof wall which was too long when he came back here, but it was over zealous trimming which had caused his lameness.

So if the answer isn't over-trimming, and its not (always) no trimming, where is the middle ground?

I've been thinking this over a lot particularly with the horses who've arrived recently.
For instance, Flynn and Saffy arrived with overly "long" hooves, as did George and Pocholo.
In all these cases, I didn't trim them but let the tracks do their job.  In most cases, 24-48 hours walking around on the tracks is all that is needed to get rid of overly long hoof wall and the horses get to do it in their own time and more gradually and gently than if they are trimmed.

By the way, with a sound horse, a few hours roadwork would do the job equally efficiently.  The tracks and surfaces are important for rehab horses with weak feet but really aren't necessary for a sound barefoot horse in work. 

So what is the secret (IMO) to a successful trim which will help and not harm the horse?

Its not about "rebalancing" the hoof.

Its not about creating the "correct" angles.

Its not about sculpting a model "wild hoof".

Its obvious when you think about it - a good trim simply allows the horse get rid of excess hoof wall that he can't otherwise get rid of on his own.

Thats all -  thats why a trim is most relevant to horses in lighter work or kept on softer surfaces, and thats why a trim is such a small part of the complex equation that is hoof health.

So whats the problem?  The problem is that we all too often mistake appearance for substance, and I've been as guilty of this in the past as anyone else.

Humans have a tendency to think that if we can make a hoof look like a healthy, functioning hoof it will actually be a healthy, functioning hoof.  This is one of the reasons why concepts like a "wild hoof model" or a "high performance hoof model" are appealing but often don't work in practice.
Solomon was in a similar position when he came back here in May for a few weeks.  In this picture of his hoof the day he arrived, the temptation is to get trimming - sort out the untidy bits, get rid of that wall and lower those long heels.  That would certainly make the hoof look a bit more like the functional hoof in the picture below.
The problem is that this approach doesn't take account of the fact that hooves can be weak not just because there is too much of one structure but also because there is not enough of another.  Trimming can only help the first, because all a trim can ever do is take away.  To build a foot up,  "celery"* is  far more beneficial.

For Solomon, you would do no harm lowering his long hoof wall at the quarters (though roadwork or the track would do the job as well) but the back of his foot is a different issue.

Its not that his heels are too high, its that his frog is too weak.  By lowering his heels you would put more pressure on the frog, but putting pressure on an already weak structure won't necessarily make it stronger - in fact it can overload it and cause a worse problem.

Look at the difference in his caudal hoof over a 2 week period:
Day one
After a week

After 2 weeks
The long hoof wall has gone, but its not his heels which have dropped, its his frog which has developed, and thats not down to trimming, its down to celery* and surfaces :-)

So the most fundamental part of a successful trim (IMO) is knowing when to stop.

* For those new to the concept of a "celery" trim, the explanation can be found here and here!


Jacqui said...

I may being being thick so please excuse the question but have I missed the point of "Celery" somewhere along the line......?
ps, love the blog as always!

jenj said...

Ahhhh, Nic, once again, you are brilliant! I especially love the part about "if we can make a hoof look like a healthy, functioning hoof it will actually be a healthy, functioning hoof." So, so true! Of course the next step is to 'edumacate' people as to what a healthy, functioning hoof looks like, and how a hoof is supposed to function... ;)

Nic Barker said...

Jacqui, if you look at the link at the beginning of the blog it will take you to one of the earlier "celery" posts which should explain things!

Jen - you see, I do take notice of what you guys say to me - glad you like it!

Bakersfield Dressage said...

Very interesting post ...

Nic Barker said...

Jacqui - the original celery posts are this one and the one linked from it - hope it makes sense :-)

Speedy - thank you!

Lucie said...

I knew I recognised those hairy feet from somewhere!! Amazing seeing the pics lined up like that, it really highlights how quickly and dramatically the hoof can change

Dressager said...

Very cool!

Nic Barker said...

Thanks all :-) I've added a celery definition now to make it a bit easier!