I received a question from Becky about trimming bars:

 Should the bars be trimmed, some say no and some do which is best for the horse and why?

Well the direct and honest answer is this…

Bars should be trimmed when they need trimming and not when they don’t.

Yeah, even I roll my eyes at that, however it does explain the differing advice out there. For some reason, when people give advice on trimming they speak in absolutes, like there’s some sort of gospel, or rule book. Having rules to follow does make you feel a little more confident, but ultimately, understanding what’s going on is going to get you what you really want…

The right trim for your horse, rather than the right trim for the person who’s never met your horse but wrote a book about it…

So… Let’s talk about bars… (does anyone else have that Salt N Pepa song in their head or is it just me?) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydrtF45-y-g

What Do Bars Do Anway?

When I was first learning I wasn’t taught a huge amount about what bars actually do. I mean, I was told what they do as in how they behave (and most of what I learned, I’m not sure I still agree with) but not what they are actually there for. I’ve figured a few things out though.

021 Bar

So there’s a strong bar (hoof cleaned up but as yet untrimmed, if you’re wondering).

It occurs to me, looking at the bar, the shape it makes the with wall, it’s location, and with a correct heel first landing, that the bar would make a rather awesome traction device.

Unlike studs which cause the hoof to come to a stop far too quickly, causing stress and strain to the bony and soft structures in the body. The bar, being made of horn, and a triangle, wedge, hook kind of shape, would, infact give traction, but allow a little slide, thus reducing the jarring effects of coming to a stop too fast.

Plus, inspite of the way the photo above is cropped, there is in fact a bar on each heel, which allows some slide, but not too much, and having one on each side, means you don’t have a turning force on the leg during the landing phase, like you would from a stud. Cool huh!

It’s almost like nature makes better designs than we do 🙂

I’m loathe to say that bars are natures studs, because really, studs are just a very, very poor imitation of the bar.

But that’s what they do. Or more accurately, that’s what they do when they’re healthy and strong. It is unfortunately, not what they do when they’re weak, or overlaid.

So, do you want to trim them?

I feel sure that, if the bar was supposed to be level with the sole, there would be some mechanism within the hoof that caused this to happen. I don’t consider a human being with a knife to be a hoof function 🙂

And when it’s muddy. Traction is gooooood!


(Come one, you knew it wasn’t going to be that simple didn’t you?!?!)

If your bars are overlaid, and generally splatty, then they’re not really doing much for your traction, because they’re pointing in the wrong direction. What’s more, as they get longer, they go further in the wrong direction. Not only that, but they’re unlikely to receive any wear, and the stimulation they receive will increase their overlaid, splattiness. So then I’d trim them.

Trimming them wouldn’t fix the problem at all, but it would provide some management while you go about removing the cause of your overlaid bars. It would also increase the chances of pressure being applied to the bar in a way that’s going to stimulate growth in the right direction.

So why are the bars overlaid?

Lets go back and look at a bit of anatomy. The bars grow from the laminae. Oh, I forgot to mention, bars are a continuation of hoof wall. They grow from the laminae, just like hoof wall does.

We all think of the laminae being attached to the pedal bone, as we know how serious it is when that attachment breaks down. However, at least half of the laminae aren’t attached to the pedal bone at all, for the very simple reason that the pedal bone is only in the front half of the hoof. From the middle of the quarters back, the laminae are attached to the lateral cartilage.

The bars overlay, and go splat, when the lateral cartilage is weak. Most often this is caused by an excessive heel first landing, and mild inflammation in the hoof.

So we have mild inflammation in the hoof, and the hoof capsule is landing heavily, not on the heel purchase, which is the ground bearing surface where the bar meets the hoof wall, but on the back of the hoof wall at the heel. This causes under run heels, which also pushes the bars forward.

It turns out that in over 10,000 photos of hooves I have at my fingertips, I haven’t taken a single photo of overlaid bars before I’ve trimmed them. Sorry about that. I’m going to do a video about this, so I can show you what I mean… Just as soon as it stops raining! (sign up to the blog if you don’t want to miss it – or check back obsessively until we have some reasonable weather).

I also want to say that impacted bars don’t exist.

If you’ve never heard of impacted bars, then skip this bit. The bar is part of the hoof wall. It’s no more realistic that the bar can start growing up inside the hoof than it would be for the hoof wall to start growing up above the coronary band, or indeed your own fingernail to grow from the nail bed, up inside you finger to your knuckle. The underlying structures simply can’t do that.

It also seems unlikely that there’s a structure on the bottom of the hoof that isn’t made for the horse to stand on or at least be capable of the horse standing on it. Really, nature wouldn’t do that. If you’re trimming bars off and they’re coming back really fast, they’re not falling out of the hoof. Pressure stimulates growth, and inflammation causes pressure, so the trimming is causing extreme inflammation. Please stop, do some dissections and have a rethink about bars.

Bars… To trim or not to trim – you decide 🙂
Has this post helped in your understanding of what the bars do?
How has it changed your view of the barefoot horses have more/less traction that shod horses debate?

Tell me what you think in the comments below…

Hoof Health Laid Bare

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About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

  • very interesting and helpful article, I have 2 heavy horses (Clydesdales) they have wonderful Bars and as you suggest nature wouldn’t put them there if they were not needed. Both are bare footed and when trimmed the bar does return quickly (as you commented) therefore i say unless floppy and wet leave them be. Many thanks Simon.

  • Good article. Do you find differences in bar conformation and growth among horse breeds? I’ve been told Thoroughbreds tend to have less robust bars.

    • There is some variation between breeds. TB’s in general have less robust hooves, but they also have less robust bodies. They’d look ridiculous with Clydesdale feet 🙂

      I had a conversation with some trimmers a while ago, where someone asked if any of us had ever seen a Welsh D bar… There wasn’t much response 🙂 I tend to call it ‘a hint of bar’ (laminitis will make bars crazy strong – laminitic bars didn’t count)

  • Well I am fairly concerned about my mare… I have been having issues with her not holding nails in her front shod feet. Her toes had become broken, cracked. My farrier at the time just continued to re-shoe/nail. I got to the point that I knew I needed to make a change. I have been wanting to go barefoot, but, it being summer – its not a good time. So I have decided early December she gets shoes pulled and we begin the process of barefoot. Here is my dilemma that pertains to your article. I had decided in the interim to have her try glue-ons. After much reading, talking with my Vet and finding what I was told was a good farrier – just last Sunday I had the new farrier pull her shoe (one had fallen off again after less than a week of being shoed), trim what need to be trimmed, fit for front glue-ons.

    this farrier said “she has overlaid bars, needs trimming”…. never heard of that – phone in hand started to google and saw what he meant – before I knew – he had trimmed her front to the point of me seeing fresh flesh/pinkish in color.

    He saying – normal – “trimming will allow proper growth”

    She is now so sore – rode her a little yesterday – I wont be back on her till I know what is what. Since she has her glue-ons now – I cant even have a gander or apply anything that may help. HELP!

    • Hi Patty, Sorry it’s taken so long for me to reply to your comment, I’ve only just seen it. I’m going to assume you’re in quite a different place now than when you wrote the above. If I can be of any help, feel free to contact me through the contact form (button up in the menu bar). I hope things are going better for you now 🙂

    • Hi Patty, trying to learn as i go. Just wondering how your horses hooves are doing.I hope all better !! I realize this post is from 6 months ago. Did you go barefoot ? My girl has always been barefoot.

  • It was great until the last paragraph :(. With the trimming causing the inflammation and growth. This worried me.

  • Would love to see photos of good bars. Since my barefoot mare has very thin soles, my farrier leaves the bars because he says she needs all the structure she can get. But her bars tend to be pretty flat and I’m just not sure what they should look like.

    • I agree I have been battling thin soles for years now have a great trimmer and she said he needs his bars trimmed, ok, she showed me ok she trimmed and the next day he was very lame and squishy spots where the bars were trimmed. He was doing great before the bar trim I believe every horse is different in respect to bars but I believe for my boy no more bar trimming unless it’s minimal.

  • I pay attention to what the horse tells me. They clearly say yes with licks and chews and sometimes OOOOMMMG!!!! with big sighs and eyeball roll yawns when I take down bar—especially deep embedded bar. The bar did not grow up but grows long just like the hoof wall does when not trimmed. Horses with strong upright bars DO get jammed up into the foot. Horses with a TB type foot with a more forward growth pattern lay over and heels underun.

  • Totally confusing…my horse had horrible feet due to neglect from previous owner..I have had him barefoot & his foot is changing, very much for the better, using a barefoot trimmer. I am still very confused about whether they should be trimmed, or not trimmed…& whether he has overlaid bars, or a retained sole. Maybe you could write something about retained sole as well. Without boots, he still has a primarily toe first landing which leads me to believe that the caudal hoof & its structures are weak…. yet I believe in your article you say that overlaid bars are can be the result of heel first landings…hence my confusion.

  • Cool, I’m going to re-read and ponder this a few more times before it really soaks in, yes I am a slow learner and probably think to much! (Which is another thing I am desiring not to do, “overthink”) But I think I get what you are saying. I love information that will ultimately help me be better for my horses.☺️ I think it would be fair to say you have a grasp on this!
    ” Knowledge without understanding is little more than the accumulation of information. Understanding comes from the struggles and successes that PRACTICAL application, trial, error and skill development provide”. Mark Rashid~ “Something you said”
    God bless

    • I think being a slow learner is a great thing. It means you’re considering the deeper implications rather than just blindly following. Also, slow learners make better teachers! Think of it as comprehensive, not slow 😀

  • Oh the confusion! I have been trimming my girls bars because I was told ( from an xray) that her bars where overgrown and would be causing her discomfort. It seemed to work too…although we will never get her totally sound as she has an old facture in her navicular….but I was hopeful that we had found something that would help her, now I read not to trim. 🙂

    • Ellen….we had the same happen to our mare. Last summer she became so lame I didn’t think we would ever be able to ride her again. We had X-rays taken 2 yrs ago, and she does have significant sidebone. So here we are, over the course of 4 years, thinking her on and off lameness is due to sidebone. She was initially barefoot when we bought her, then in shoes, then out of them…nothing kept her sound for very long. HOWEVER… It wasn’t until I recently sought out the services of a barefoot trimmer, who actually looked at her X-rays….where 2 farriers and a vet did not. She could see her bars were too long and curved….causing pain under her cannon bone. She has been trimming the bars and reshaping the fronts now for about 5 months. Our mare got instant relief from the very first trim, and has been steadily improving ever since…she is for all intensive purposes pain free now, and walking like a normal horse. Trimming the bars or not may still be up for debate…it’s matter of what works best for your horse. For us it has become the difference between being lame and sound.

    • I’m not saying not to trim 🙂 I’m saying trim if you need to. Trimming the bar isn’t so much of a problem. There are some methods that amputate the bar. That’s a problem. I’m unsure how anyone would be able to tell from an xray that the bars are too long. If you’re finding that trimming the bars is helping, I’m not about to say don’t do it. (just, you know, don’t go drawing blood!)

  • That was indeed interesting 🙂 I’ve read lots of conflicting stuff re bars in recent months & by the sounds of it I can just continue with my rasp & not worry too much!!! Result! Hee hee x

  • Very interesting. It certainly explains why my horse is able to canter all the way down to the bottom of her very muddy, slippy field, to where the grass is, with beautiful grace, whilst her shod neighbour is tripping and slipping alongside her and then deciding it might be best to trot before he tumbles over! 😀 love it!

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