One of the first questions everyone asks when considering removing shoes and ‘going barefoot’ is ‘What’s the difference between a farrier trim and a barefoot trim?’

It’s a fair question, but it’s also a question that makes my brain melt a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with the question, but I’m a very literal person, and there’s no such thing as a (singular) farrier trim or a (singular) barefoot trim.

There’s no comparison

There’s lots of different ways in which farriers balance and trim hooves, just as there’s many different ways in which barefoot trimmers balance and trim hooves.

A farriers wife once said to me that if you put 10 farriers in a room, they’ll come up with at least 11 ways to balance a hoof.

The Mustang Roll

It seems to be commonly accepted that a ‘barefoot trim’ uses a mustang roll and a ‘farrier trim’ also referred to as a ‘pasture trim’ doesn’t include a mustang roll.

Well… Hold on to your unmentionables here but I’m about to blow your mind!!

A mustang roll is little more than rounding off the outside of the wall in most cases. And while a farrier (particularly a UK based one) might not do a mustang roll (because why would you in a country with so few mustangs – equine or automobile) they do very frequently round the foot off. Which, like I said, is much the same thing.

The mustang roll, isn’t magic, it’s not the reason your horse becomes sound, and it doesn’t make barefoot trimming superior to farrier trimming in anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I mustang roll all over the place, there’s good reasons to do so, but it’s not the difference between a barefoot trim and a farrier trim.

I suppose there are some schools of barefoot trimming that apply a mustang roll with such gusto that they actually remove all ground bearing wall. In this case it probably is more significant, though I’d argue that’s not a mustang roll (I’d also recommend against doing this in most cases, but that’s a whole different debate)

Farriers don’t, as far as I’m aware roll the wall when putting a shoe on, which may be where the idea that farriers don’t roll the wall comes from. I suppose it’s possible that a farrier is so used to not rolling that they don’t do it when trimming a shoeless horse, but I’m not sure whether that’s a sign of adhering to farriery sciences or just laziness.

I know I have farriers who read this blog, so feel free to enlighten me (and the rest of us) in the comments. You do after all know far more about farriery sciences than I 🙂 (hopefully!)

It’s Not About The Trim

You see, the simple fact is the difference isn’t in the trim.
There are farriers who do great trims and farriers who do horrible trims.
There are barefoot trimmers who do great trims and barefoot trimmers who do horrible trims.
There are horse owners who do great trims and there are horse owners who do horrible trims.
There are hair dressers who do great trims and hair dressers who do horrible trims 😀 (ok I’ll stop now)

So… Here’s another question… What’s the difference between a farrier and a barefoot trimmer?

Lets assume we’ve established that’s there’s good and bad in everything so I’m going to have to talk in generalisations to answer this one…

The short answer is attitude and mind set. The mind set does frequently come from the training though, so training is important, but for me, mind set is more important.

Mind set determines whether someone can see they’ve made a mistake, or if there’s a flaw in the method they’re following. It determines whether you can recognise the horses needs, and owners needs beyond your own needs and ego.

It determines whether you continue to study and train after you’ve qualified. It determines whether you look at new things and expand your mind, or whether you keep to what you know and repeat more of the same.

Being a farrier or a barefoot trimmer really doesn’t determine how open minded you are, or how big your ego is.

Farriery Science

Farriers are trained in putting shoes on. Yes they’re trained in trimming hooves, but most of the work they do is with shod horses (unless they’ve decided to specialise in barefoot horses).

When you trim a hoof with the intention of putting a shoe on, you tend to trim the hoof shorter than you would if it were to be barefoot.

Now I’m not saying farriers don’t leave a barefoot longer. They do (or should). But what they’re used to seeing; what looks right to them, is a shorter foot. It’s a matter of conditioning of the mind, not skill.

If you have a farrier who works with a lot of barefoot horses, they may not have this perspective issue.

It’s easy for me to say that every farrier barefoot trim I’ve seen has been too short (because it has – in my opinion) – but it’s essential to remember that anyone with a farrier trim that isn’t too short, is very unlikely to contact me.

Generally people call me because there’s a problem.  They don’t call me when everything is as it should be.

I’ve only ever had one person call me to tell me how great her farrier was (and she seemed somewhat put out by my advice to make sure she always has the kettle on for his arrival, and to buy him a bottle of whisky for Christmas)

Farriery, as a science, is based very much in mechanics. It doesn’t approach the hoof like it’s a biological structure. It doesn’t think about the ‘healing’ mechanisms of the hoof. It relies on applying an external support to replace what’s missing. That doesn’t mean your farrier can’t think that way, it’s that the science doesn’t think that way.

Farriery approaches balance from a static point of view. Is the right side of the hoof the same height as the left side.

This is all mind set. A farrier thinks in terms of farriery, a surgeon thinks in terms of surgery, a computer programmer thinks in terms of programming.

You may have a farrier who’s done barefoot training. And that’s great. But I’d question whether the mindset has changed.

Years ago, when I was training, I met a farrier on a course in the States. Lovely bloke, he taught me how to remove shoes, and how to get round my problem of very long legs when trimming horses with very little legs.

He was training for a barefoot trimming qualification. He wasn’t just doing a course out of interest, he was serious about barefoot. But he still shod horses. That’s fine, his reasoning was, if they’re going to be shod they’re better off shod with a strong healthy hoof. I agree with him.

But he was still shoeing those crazy weighted shoe things they put on gaited horses to lame them exaggerate the gait. The methods are far too horrific for me to bring myself to insert a link here.

Again his reasoning was, that the horses were better off with a strong balanced foot before the weighted contraption was applied, and he’s right on that point, very much so. The traditional way to prepare a hoof for such a contraption is called soring and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

(soring is illegal, and he didn’t work with anyone who practiced it)

He also liked how challenging the work was as it requires a high level of skill.

My point here isn’t about horrific things that occur in the fringes of horse shoeing. My point here is that he had a lot of very good quality barefoot training, yet his mind set was such that applying ridiculous weighted shoes still fit comfortably within his idea of hoof care.

So Lets Move on to Barefoot Trimmers.

Personally for me I think of balance as dynamic. Technically that makes it equilibrium, but I continue to use the term balance as that’s what people understand (plus the whole hoof industry is built on misnaming things… barefoot trimming isn’t about barefoot and it isn’t about trimming… white line disease isn’t a disease of the white line)

What’s this dynamic balance thing all about? Well it’s not just about the hoof being in balance with the ground.

It’s whether the hoof capsule is in balance with the internal hoof structures

Are the hoof structures in balance with each other? Not just in terms of right side equals left side, but if you have a very strong wall, but weak bars or weak frog, then it’s not in balance.

Is the nervous system in balance? The digestive system? Lymphatic system? Musculoskeletal system? Is all of this in balance with the hoof.

I do look at what’s missing from the hoof, but I don’t think about what I can apply externally to fix this. I think about how the body functions to create this result and what stimulus does the body need so it grows stronger, healthier, more balanced structure.

I do of course consider what I can apply to the outside to make the horse comfortable (if he isn’t already) and how that will stimulate (or interfere with) correct growth. But the external things I apply, aren’t what’s fixing the problem. They’re what’s creating the environment that stimulates the necessary healing (or strengthening – same thing really) within the horse.

So that’s all about me, and I should be talking about barefoot trimmers in general, just as I did with farriers.

Barefoot Trimmers

Barefoot trimmers, in general, use the environment (diet, exercise, certain surfaces, boots, pads, physical therapy) to stimulate better hoof growth.

Again this is down to mind set. Barefoot trimming thinks about healing, not about applying artificial structures.

Some trimmers do think all about the trim, just as much as some farriers think all about the shoes. There’s even barefoot specialists who don’t trim at all! (and as a result don’t call themselves trimmers either) They use environment to make the changes.

My personal opinion is that teaming the environment with trimming will get results faster, and require less effort. I’m all about maximum results for as little effort as possible 🙂

Really, you’re employing a PERSON to tend your horse’s hooves. That person is more than the science (or ahem… pseudoscience) they’ve studied. That isn’t to say that the person you like or relate to the most is the best person for the job. Sometimes the best person for the job is the one who’s telling you the things you really don’t want to hear.

I’ve never known anyone question which farriery methods are being applied. Horse owners tend to think of farriery as a singular method but there’s a multitude of ways in which farriers trim hooves, apply shoes, wedges, pads, filler, nails, wraps and more. There’s hundreds of different makes and styles of shoes, made out of an increasing wide array of materials. They’re even 3d printing titanium shoes now!

For some reason though, very few people question what farriery involves, or what methods their farrier is trained in.

So… Here’s what I suggest…

Think about what kind of service you want. Think about what kind of mindset and attitude you want. Think about what kind of person you want to work with, because you really should be working WITH your hoof care provider.

Do you want someone who’s going to trim and leave, because you’ve already got the rest under control? Do you want someone who’s going to spend time advising you on every aspect of your horse’s care? Do you want someone holistically minded, or scientifically minded, or both?

How fast do you want results, and what results do you want?

Don’t forget, YOU employ THEM! But in addition to that, you’re employing them to advise you and provide a service. It’s a strange dynamic. You’re the boss, but they tell you what to do 🙂

There is no right or wrong. It’s about what suits you and your horse. But if your horse is consistently lame, sore, or under performing, you might want to change something. That might be management, or it might simply be your expectations (for all I know your horse is over 30 years old and you’re trying to go eventing every weekend. It’s unlikely farriery or barefoot sciences can help you with that…)

I know that’s not a neat little answer that lumps all farriers in one box and all trimmers in another box. Come to think of it, neither can horses or horse owners be lumped together into neat little boxes. I can’t tell you what’s right for you.

I can tell you that no-one, farrier, trimmer, vet or otherwise ever entered their chosen profession with the intent to harm horses, or deliver poor service to their clients. I realise that they may have made mistakes, or taken a wrong path somewhere along the line, but I don’t think anyone consciously sets out to harm horses.

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below

Hoof Health Laid Bare

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  • I found this very enlightenin. I’ve had horses for over 30 years with very few problems. Several months back my barn closed and the farrier refused to come to the new place after 8 years of doing my two horses. And NO I did not move to another state but 15 minutes from my other barn. I had another borders farrier do my horse. Bad idea! After 2 trims her feet were not balanced and messed up. He ghosted me & I had no shoer when she left! I’ve had really nice gal who is a Barefoot trimmer. I do not keep shoes on my horses. But for some reason now her back feet are toeing out and are out of balance. In talking with her, she says she doesn’t look at angles just the foot! I am perplexed with this as incorrect angles and yrims can cripple a horse. My friend and I talked about the training and certification farriers & barefoot trimmers need. I also feel regardless if you are showing your horse or going down the trail the horses feet should be trimmed properly. She is coming back out to look at my mare, but said if I was concerned about angles, I may want to consider someone else. Has anyone else experience this?
    Thank you,

  • As a farrier (still new and learning through AFA) I’m baffled by some of the barefoot “farriers” or trimmers…. I get really annoyed how they continue to spread false information, FOR MONEY! They want farriers out of the way. And many will and do say ANYTHING to get a client to turn barefoot. Most farriers have more trims on their books than shod horses! Unless they specifically choose to do more shod. All the farriers I know and myself I do more trims. And im really tired of hearing ” farriers are taught to trim for shoes and thats all” …… no… we are taught to trim a horse for balance, to keep the integrity of the hoof strong, and address any hoof defects. And yes any competent farrier who actually has studied and went to school knows to roll the edges. If they don’t its because they aren’t real farriers. They bought some tools and call themselves farriers.
    Also again, and competent farrier also addresses diet,work, environmental conditions and so on. We also use oils and conditioners. I’ve never met a farrier who doesn’t….. so if you haven’t noticed by now most of the things being said aren’t true. I only put shoes on a horse WHEN NEEDED. If the petty fighting could stop and lies farriers and trimmers could make great teams. Because even though trimmers deny it, we can do work, and help horses in ways they can’t. Not everything is fixable with boots or diet. Sometimes special modifications need to be done. Or casting or do glue ons. liz

  • I have a TB with the tendency to have long toes and low heels. My regular farrier has tried to change this. He was doing well but ran out of foot. He hot shoes, but does a good job. My horse doesn’t like hot shoeing and being sedated to do this. I talked my farrier into letting Sonny go barefoot with boots. I had a barefoot farrier fit him for boots. She trimmed his feet and gave me some suggestions on diet and on hoof care as well as fitting Sonny with boots. Sonny likes her, there was no sedation, and I am following her suggestions with the hope that his feet will handle being barefoot. I can tell he is happier with this farrier. I don’t want to give up my other farrier because he has worked hard to get Sonny’s feet in balance. Not sure what to do about which farrier to keep?? Any suggestions on what to look for in a quality kept barefoot? The trim my previous farrier did on his initial barefoot trim broke down along the edges. The new farrier retrimmed Sonny’s feet and used Hoof Armor on them and Sonny’s feet are doing better, no break down along the edges of his feet. The boots she fitted him with are working great. Not sure if she takes enough toe off though?? Anything else I should consider for a good barefoot trim?

    • Yes, I have a 33 year old retired pasture horse, just trimmed yesterday. She is comfortable with a roll that allows her to pick up her feet without the outside of the hoof ‘catching’ on grasses, rocks, twigs, etc. She has always been sound with shoes or without shoes, but she seems more comfy with a rolled edge barefoot and retired.

  • My horses are barefoot and my current farrier trims them according to each ones needs – whether they have strong hooves or flaky walls, how fast their feet grow and how much work they do – and sometimes according to the weather. My current one has helped my flaky footed mare tremendously – first by recommending a certain supplement, then by balancing her hooves so her feet hit correctly, and he never shaves the outer wall except at the trim edge. He does trim her cracks to keep them from getting worse, without damaging a big area. There’s been so much improvement in her feet since I found him! The horses love that he works quickly and he’s kind to them. (He had a lot of work to do to gain their trust after the previous farrier.). Really good farriers are hard to find!

  • Awesome post! I just bought my 13 yo son a horse (he competes in the Jumper ring) and while I grew up with horses, the whole show thing is new to me. I also manage the barn where he rides and boards the horse. And I spend a lot of time talking to and asking questions of the farriers. There are several who come to the barn. (I frequently ask them all the same question and see what kind of answers I get). I have been a physical therapist for 25 years so functional adaptations and biomechanics are my areas of expertise. So talking to Farriers just makes sense to me. They are Iike the podiatrists or PTs for horses. When we got my son’s horse (a BLM mustang that won the mustang makeover) It was suggested I use a “barefoot trimmer” and I’m like wtf is that? Wouldn’t ALL farrier trim barefeet? The name suggested to me was a name I didn’t know….meaning not someone who came to our barn. (Which also means I haven’t already asked her a million questions to “vet” her. There’s always a method to my madness.) After reading this post, I totally get the “difference” between a “farrier” and a “barefoot trimmer”….the mindset. That makes sense to me. Like an Orthopedic surgeon will do orthopedic surgery. But an physical therapist will find other ways to address the same problem. Which, is EXACTLY why I have been basically interviewing farriers for the past year. The guy I like thinks like a “barefoot trimmer”.

    • Thanks!

      From your language, I’ll assume you’re in the States. I suspect the difference is a bit more blurred there. In the UK ‘farrier’ is a protected term, and if you’re not a registered farrier you can’t use glue on shoes etc. I know some barefoot trimmers in countries where isn’t not a protected term call themselves farriers and some barefoot trimmers will use glue ons too.

      Interviewing is a great way to find the right person for you 🙂

  • I love this blog and wish I’d read it years ago when I first got horses and went barefoot.
    I trusted and never questioned my farrier/s.
    Almost 5 years down the line, I’m now under a barefoot trimmer who (first appointment next week) will be looking not only at hooves but diet, environment, exercise etc. I can’t wait to have pony, I’ll finally be able to hack out again. With the help of boots.

    It really is up to us as owners, to question what’s being done and learn ourselves about the way a hoof should look.

    I now realise, just because you have your horses hooves done every 8 weeks – if it’s not done correctly – it’s pointless.

    Thank you for this blog x

  • Very helpful to hear your thoughts on this, as a new horse owner who wants to stay barefoot always. Now i just need to find the right barefoot trimmer!

  • In West Virginia it’s hard enough to find anyone to do ANY type of hoof trims, let alone specifically a holistic approach. I’ve actually considered going to school myself to provide this service in my area.

  • Having a hard time finding someone that trims in Lisle Broome County NY. That has more experience in barefoot trims or willing to take vets advice. My one horse is now having issues. The other 2 are on the same road. Looking for some suggestions? Your article was inspiring and made me feel hopeful. Thank you

    • There are occasions when you may need to trim the frog or sole, and occasions where you won’t need to. The needs of mustangs and brumbies are quite different to those of a domesticated horse, so while it’s interesting to learn from them, we also need to remember that any horse is a product of their environment and a domestic horse is in a very different environment and requires a very different function from their feet.

  • Very good read. Sence I have had my horse Tater I have kept him without shoes. (4 years ) we moved had to find a new Farrier well after being trimmed 3x had to put shoes on the front cause he has gotten sore. I wish that I could send you pictures terrible job. New farrier is coming Monday thank God. The Farrier’ that I fired said that that he New I was going to be hard to please. He left Tater with no heels. There is a difference for trimming barefoot I run barrels.

      • Hi Ladies … I have 2 x-racehorses, 1 TB and 1 STNDBRD Trotter; I keep both shoeless unless they show me they need some form of shoe, per se; in other words if the rate of wear exceeds the rate of growth; there are many products out there to chose from as I am not in favor of nailing a steel appliance to the hoof causing restrictions to expansion etc and nails can cause issues because of ‘pricking’ whereby the nail penetrates the inner wall or internal structures and LAMENESS results; if the toes on your horse were starting to extend outwards (getting too long), chipping or cracking results and I would NOT take the heels down too far; the boney column also is important when trimming, in my humble opinion; I try to keep the outer hoof wall parallel to some degree with the back of the long pastern, but again dont get fixed on exacting angles per se and there are a host of other things to look at from the shoulder and downward (conformation); again, without seeing the trim results you received I dont want to get beyond our topic; look at the ELPO as they provide data on both shoeing & shoeless; the sole, frog, bars, heels all work together to aid in shock absorption and dissipate energies; diet, exercise, turn out all play a factor too; I liken it to ‘quality in should beget quality out’; I hope the new farrier listens to your concerns and can address your issues and it may take more than 1 trim, per se; TIME – allow growth, correct growth and healing to take place and improve the gait of your horse; take care & GOD Bless … Randy

    • Trimmers aren’t taught through an apprenticeship scheme. Most consider their training ongoing until retirement. There are a number of reputable schools that offer courses with varying structures. You’ll find trimmers will do a number of different courses, as their education is self funded and self guided.

  • Great post! I’m curious to know if a horse with flat soles can ever develop more concave soles. My near 28 yo gelding was shod most of his life. I tried a keeping him barefoot for 3 years but he couldn’t handle the rocky terrain, he went back into shoes and was sound. For the past 6 months, he’s on my nicer turf so he’s back to being barefoot. His feet look great, (had only one subsolar abscess) but they are flat! I’m guessing flat feet develop more abscesses? Something he’s prone to when kept barefoot.

    • You can improve concavity. I’d say low heels or thin soles would be more abscess inducing. Flat soles aren’t necessarily thin, but it all depends on what’s going on inside.

  • We started late with horses, me at 56 and the grandaughter at 10. And we started with Shires. Very lucky to get a Household Cavalry-trained senior Farrier from the start. Whose first sentence was “I don’t like shoeing horses unless it’s necessary” and second was an instruction to me to buy the book “No foot, no horse”. Seven years on, with three shires, we gave up shoeing 3 years ago on cost and need grounds. But it was clear that the Shires’ feet needed regular “nip and tucks” to keep them neat and strong, and when needed, not just every 6 weeks or so. So I was gradually taught to “barefoot” trim Winston, 9yrs, 900kgs; Louis, 4, 700kgs; and Alice 5, 750kgs. As a farmer and jack-of-all-trades (but master of none!) the physical and technical aspects hold no fears, just the overarching consideration that “it’s not your foot, cause no harm”. We now have laminated photographs after a “benchmark” professional trim that I can use to compare and contrast my work, and have key measurements to indicate the need for a trim. My query to the hugely knowledgeable contributors to this site, (which I’ve only just found and am in awe of the blogs etc) is about lotions and potions. The Shires live out all year, no rugs, stabled at night late December – March, more from a desire to have their company, keep them disciplined and supplement the meagre grass with hay and some feed for the youngsters so the health of their feet is dependent totally on the quality of the grass for 9 months of the year. During the moister months I can maintain their feet quite well. In the dry summer it’s more challenging, and even soaking in a pond regularly doesn’t seem to help. We started using, two months ago, proprietary natural-ingredients “hoof balms”, either from Red Horse or Leovet, on a daily basis if possible, on the outside of the hoof, especially around the coronets. We augment this with a natural hoof oil on the soles, frogs and white lines. Whilst not cheap, and somewhat time consuming, it is certainly cheaper than keeping them shod for no reason – (oh I should say they are worked, not a lot, but do harrowing of paddocks are ridden, and in a rides wagon, all on fields). What I’m interested in is anyone’s thoughts or comments on “applied on the outside” products regarding healthy feet. We certainly seem to have noticed a difference this year, more growth, stronger, less fragility, less cracking. And also whether any particular product / ingredient seems to be better than others?

    • I rarely need to put stuff on the wall if I’ve got the diet right so I don’t have much to offer in the topical recommendation department. Red Horse stuff tends to be pretty awesome, but you already know about that. Sorry I’m not more helpful 🙂

  • Harwill Diemling Barefoot Trimmer DipWCF (cert NBF)

    Great article.

    I would just raise a couple of points. The anatomy study that farriers do at college is intensive and thorough. It is related more to form and function than just fitting shoes. For instance when I qualified I could draw a sagital or longitudal section of the horses leg and hoof at any point from the knee down. And label all the structures. Nerves, blood vessels, tendons ligaments etc. Everything. The anatomical training has also advanced considerably since I trained.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about gaited horses. Unfortunately this is a monster that has been created by greed and exaggeration. Traditionally these were carriage horses or showy riding horses. They wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the shoes and pads they wear today. There was a similar situation with showing Clydesdales in the UK. Feet being thinned out at the toe being encouraged to flare in a specific direction to accentuate ‘breed standards’. Several prominent farriers took on the showing judging to put this right.
    Clydesdales are work horses. The way their feet were being trimmed and shod for showing was ridiculous. In the real world they would have been losing shoes and lame.

    Some farriers do bevel or hem the hoof before fitting a shoe. I do. But it’s not anywhere near the extent of a barefoot roll.

    Most of my work 90% is Barefoot trimming. I shoe if needed.
    As you quite rightly point out shoes are available in such a wide range of materials and styles. We can also make them for any purpose. I totally agree that to trim (or shoe) a horse, we need to consider more than just the feet we are working on. Endogenous and exogenous factors make a huge difference.

    In my experience there will always be those that need shoeing. But on the flip side I see a lot of horses that are shod that don’t need to be.

    Barefoot for me is the ideal and for horse owners I think it encourages more of a holistic approach to horse care and management.

    Hope this helps. And best wishes. H

  • my farrier recently trimmed my horses so short they’re walking only on the sole of the foot-the older horse is about grade 2 lame today!! How can I get across not to trim them as if they’re getting a shoe, or so short the wall is above the sole?

  • As a holistically minded, scientifically trained farrier… I’ll go with that no one ‘quick fix’ but should always ask ‘why’ when theres a problem. Good article

  • Gonna have to give this an F. It was a D+ to C- due to not actually talking about trimming. Had to drop it to an F when you decided you were neurologist, gastroenterologist, lymphologist, and musculoskeletal physician.

  • watching and seeing barefoot trimmers my observation is barefoot trimmers don’t have the ability to put on shoes. i often see them wearing gloves and using angle grinders, which i find unnatural. there are videos of barefoot trimmers who are uneducated of even hoof anatomy giving people the thought after a 10 minute video that they will be able to trim their horses and other horses too. barefoot trimmers seem uneducated and poorly trained in hoof science but really good at selling the idea. all the barefoot trimmers i have seen underrun the heel and dub the entire foot.

    the first shoe i put on took me 6 hours… yup one shoe. it is difficult and takes training. most of that was actually getting the shoe perfectly flat. if someone wants a horse kept in that idealistic wild mustang condition the don’t ride your horse, keep them in nothing less than a 1,000 acre pasture and don’t call the vet if they get sick because in the wild there are no vets. it is kind of like getting a wolf hybrid for your city apartment. i especially do not like people who put down farriers as if they only think one way…shoes. being a farrier is a skilled trade/craft, it doesn’t mean just putting on shoes. a farrier IS concerned an educated on whole horse health.

    i always urge clients to go barefoot rather than have shoes as it is healthier for the horse. I do shoe horses with a bit more wall than some farriers as i shoe hunter/jumpers which require that extra support and i feel all horses do. there are some horses that can not be ridden without shoes, they have very sensitive feet. there are horses with laminitus which would have to be put down if it wasn’t for a specialized shoe with caudal support, sole protection and relief of pressure on the toe. i can trim to minimize toe pressure but there is no trim that gives the caudal support like a bar shoe. many of the aspects of some shoes can be translated to a trim, i learned a lot from shoes and i find a very real need for them to greatly increase the quality of life for a horse. that being said 90 percent of the horses i do are just trims. also, i do not trim them down as far as possible, i leave healthy sole and only remove the frog that is either diseased or where they grow to far to the side and catch debris, which is usually diseased because of bacteria.

    Farrier schools most definitely do teach the whole health of the horse including environment, diet and type of work. They encourage continued education. we studied the whole horse anatomy not just the feet. the feet affect the the whole horse. Right to left balance is VERY important, you should not try to distract from this fact. try wearing shoes that are off right to left, your back will be sore in minutes. i learned to look for and accommodate horses that have legs of two different lengths as well as address deformities and diseases. concepts or “barefoot trimming” and “natural balance” trimming and shoeing were also addressed. i am continually annoyed with the barefoot movement and the misinformation that comes from it. of coarse farriers try to find the perfect balance with all components of the horse considered, which is mostly modeled by the newborn. i do not shoe stacked pads and am vehemently against it. i am in an area famous for this type of shoeing and my opinion often is not welcomed. i also deal with horse psychology and am often called in for the problem horses because horse training was part of farrier school and has been something i have been learning my whole lifetime. i also am greatly interested in working with donkeys in which differ slightly from horse hoofs.

    • I think if you’re judging barefoot trimmers on their ability to shoe, it’s unsurprising that you’re disappointed. It’s not dissimilar to judging the horse on it’s ability to bark.

      It’s great that you’ve put so much effort into developing your shoeing skills. People who apply shoes should.

  • An excerpt from up and coming book titled … The Five Basic Hoof Structures
    Chapter Four… New Concept

    The horse evolved with constant movement, their hooves are smart structures meaning that the hooves are continuously adapting to changes in terrain and lifestyle. Their hooves are constantly growing and in the wild being trimmed by movement. When we domesticate the horse, and control or restrict movement, we alter this natural cycle created by evolution.

    Every horse is born with a hoof deformity in that the hoof is “rolled-up to protect the mother. This foal hoof creates an unnatural stride and hoof-fall. As the horse ages and gains weight the hoof must completely “unroll” and the horse transitions into the hoof-fall of an adult. This process with average movement takes between two and five years to complete in the wild. These first years of life are critical for the horse to change the hoof, stretch soft tissue, develop bone density and establish and reestablish muscle memory.

    Most hoof deformities that are seen later in life were created within the first few years of the horse’s life. Most hoof deformities that cause lameness seen later in life are the result of overgrowth from lack of movement or overprotecting the internal structures of the hoof. One key to understanding, preventing and reversing hoof deformities is in understanding how to “un-roll” foal hooves.

    I have spent thousands of hours studying hoof care, attending seminars, reading texts and visiting hoof care practitioners websites. I have marvel at some of the before and after photographs showing incredible changes in hoof quality. I am constantly learning about the remodeling properties of the hoof, how changes in diet, trimming protocols and lifestyle can make positive or negative changes in soundness and hoof quality.

    Most now recognize the metabolic conditions that cause lamina failure during laminitis, and have learned ways to help keep this under control using diet and exercise. Most now recognize overgrowth on the hoof wall especially at the toe, but most methods for correcting this condition does not prevent the reoccurrence of overgrowth. Instead it is putting the hoof into a continuous cycle of over growth and correction. The objective should be to make the hoof as self-maintaining as possible for current lifestyle of our domesticated horses.
    Protection is the act of preventing somebody or something from being harmed or damaged. Protectionism is the system of preventing change in order to protect a domestic industry. Economics can be powerful force for good…it can also create resistance for change. The time is now for change at our universities so that hoof care can evolve for the betterment of our equine sports.

    For the wild horse, hoof care is simple, where it gets complicated is when we restrict movement or try to protect the hoof rather than condition it for concussion. It can only get more complicated when we try to prevent wear, or lock the hoof into the current situation.

    When we keep a hoof locked into a situation that the terrain, age or lifestyle is trying to adapt away from, we create lameness. Today’s farriers have learned to lock the hoof with shoes, for some trainers and disciplines this can be a big advantage that most times never ends well for the horse. Hoof care is the primary reason in Thoroughbred Racing the average career is less than five years, yet one must wonder most horses in the wild do not reach their prime until age fifteen.

    I do not believe in altering nature to suit man when it comes to hoof care. To me a horse is sound when it can perform without the need for hoof protection, moving comfortably with or without a rider over varying terrains as nature intended. I expect the rider to condition the horse and hoof, and to train the look they expect in their discipline with their aids, not by creating imbalance in the horse’s hoof.

    Today, when I revisit some of the photographs from the past, I think about how much I didn’t know. I see now that most trimming methods have little influence in correcting the hoof growth direction for the basic hoof structures. You will be astonished how little needs to be cut from the hoof when each of the basic hoof structures are growing in the correct direction.

    Over growth is a major cause of hoof deformity, the other and more importantly is incorrect growth direction of the basic hoof structures. Using an approach to change hoof growth direction can be the most positive thing you change in your hoof care.

    My goal is to get more minds thinking about the basic hoof structures in a different way… to better define growing in the correct direction with no over lapping of growth or function…how each of the basic structures affects the internal structures. This will help to enlighten everyone as to the how, why and what if.

    The farrier can no longer be a carpenter where his job is to cut or mold using synthetic material to acquire the “right” measurement for the external shape. It’s time they think like the arborist, with a better understanding that the hoof is growing tissue, and everything they do effects the growth direction and it’s relationship with the internal structures.

    When a tree needs pruning a good arborist will make sure he understands the reason he is cutting.

    “Because each cut has the potential to change the growth of the tree, no branch should be removed without a reason. Common reasons for pruning are to remove dead branches, to improve form, and to reduce risk. Trees may also be pruned to increase light and air penetration to the inside of the tree’s crown or to the landscape below. In most cases, mature trees are pruned as corrective or preventive measures.

    Routine thinning does not necessarily improve the health of a tree. Trees produce a dense crown of leaves to manufacture the sugar used as energy for growth and development. Removal of foliage through pruning can reduce growth and stored energy reserves. Heavy pruning can be a significant health stress for the tree.

    There are many outside considerations, however, that make it necessary to prune trees. Safety, clearance, and compatibility with other components of a landscape are all major concerns. Proper pruning, with an understanding of tree biology, can maintain good tree health and structure while enhancing the aesthetic and economic values of our landscapes.”

    The arborist understands that all trees are trying to grow the same. The roots grow in the ground spreading out in equal directions from the trunk. The trunk tries to grow high and straight to the light. The crown is made up of branches that want to spread out in the light. The branches have leaves wanting to bask in the light.

    If life was perfect then every tree would perfect, but life is not perfect, it has a way of influencing destiny. A rock can influence the roots. Taller trees can influence the trunk, crown and branches. The arborist knows this, but he also must understand the soil, precipitation, wind direction, invasive plants, insects, and wildlife and how each of these will affect the tree.

    Before any trimming can begin, the good arborist knows that every cut he makes has the potential to improve or destroy the tree. He has learned he cannot force the tree to grow in the correct direction, but must nurture change. When he makes a mistake, as experience has taught he will, he cannot put the cut back where it was. This is where he looks to the wisdom of the carpenter for some good advice, “measure twice and cut once”.

    Today’s hoof care must evolve. Waiting four or six weeks for the hoof care provider to examine a hoof is too long, unless each of the basic structures is growing in the correct direction. Domestic hooves must be cleaned and check daily by someone with hoof care knowledge. Optimizing hoof performance means correcting growth direction before any hoof pathologies develop.

    As you begin to care for the hoof on a daily basis, you will soon realize that all hooves are trying to grow the same, that’s not to say that all hooves are growing the same. You will quickly recognize that there is deformity in almost every structure, some distortions caused by over growth, some by changes to another structure, some by pathogen infection.

    As your skills improve you will soon learn that ignorance was bliss when it involves a hoof deformity on a sound horse. The more you learn about the hoof, the more you realize that perfect hooves are few and far between, but sound horses are a dime a dozen. Sometimes the best thought is…”if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” or better yet fix it slowly.

    The Five Basic Hoof Structures
    These are what I term the five basic structures, heel, hoof wall, bar, sole and frog. Each structure has its own unique cellular design forming different degrees of hardness and flexibility. Each is growing tissue with its own specific function and rate of growth. Each structure can vary in length from hoof to hoof, or in the same hoof from day to day, week to week, changing based on lifestyle.

    What doesn’t change is like the tree…the roots “should not” be aboveground…the leaves “do not” grow underground. With the hoof, the heels “should not” be pulled forward and the sole and frog “should not” be stretched by the wall…the bars do not overlap the sole in the back half of the hoof. Take notice of the lawyer wording in those last sentences, “should not”…“do not” this is a common theme in my thought and in my writings.

    Think about the tensile of the five basic components. The hardest of the five is the heel, wall and bar. I see them as one unit working together the “leaf spring”. Next is the sole less dense more like “leather padding” easily stretched and molded by the leaf spring. Finally the frog (and coronary band) the brains of the outfit the sensor filled “spring rubber”. (NASCAR fan)

    Knowing how these five basic structures should be growing allows us to identify incorrect hoof growth. Knowing how and when to correct hoof growth direction helps us to better understand what our horse needs now and in the future. Only when each structure is growing in the correct direction at the correct length for the lifestyle and confirmation of the horse, have we completely optimizes the horse’s performance.

    It is the hoof care practitioner’s responsibility is to think three dimensional to keep each of the five components at the correct length growing in a direction that prevents their overlapping of growth or function . The hoof care practitioner’s responsibility does not stop at the trim of the hooves needed today. They must understand the training methods and lifestyle to be forward thinking with their trim.

    Before we can better define each of the five basic structures we must first define hoof soundness. What is good today on this horse may not be good tomorrow or with a different horse and owner. It’s the mystery of training…get used to it.

    Everyone has their own language and brings with them their own bias. What may appear sound to the hoof care practitioner and veterinarian might be problematic to the trainer and owner or just the opposite. We can’t even agree on hoof-fall, is it heel first…flat with slight heel first that can’t be seen…flat…toe first. My answer to this is with a question, was the horse traveling on flat ground, up a hill, sideways along the hill, or downhill…was the terrain soft like a pasture or deep footing like a sand arena or hard packed like a paved road…was the horse conditioned for the terrain?

    Hoof lameness is any inability of the horse to move comfortably on the lifestyle terrain that is caused by any issue rooted in the hoof. The key words are “rooted in the hoof” secondary issues can result from poor hoof quality such as poor confirmation and injury and must be address together, fixing a torn ligament caused by poor hoof quality is necessary but usually does not resolve the root cause that tore the ligament if it was rooted in poor hoof quality.

    There is a real need for equine hoof physical therapists in today’s world. Hoof conditioning is clouded in mystery because of everyone’s misunderstanding of how the hoof is trying to grow. Too often the hoof is thought of as a block that is molded into a uniform shape needed for function. We do not understand what the horse is asking for because we do not take the time to listen.

    To determine and repair hoof soundness we must first learn to identify each of the five basic hoof structures. This can be difficult when there is overlapping growth and function, especially when pathogen infection makes it difficult to identify bars and heel wall that have been growing over the sole. Sometimes it is best to clean the hoof with a hoof pick then allow movement over pea gravel for a few hours before cutting anything.

    Once we have identified each of the five basic hoof structures, then we determine how each is growing. Is the growth of each structure in the correct direction for the confirmation? Is each structure at the ideal length for the lifestyle? Does the structure deform before it reaches optimum length? Does the structure have integrity to sustain that length? Is there any overgrowth causing over lapping of functions? How is one structure affecting the other structures? Should any structure temporarily be performing a function that it was not designed for? Is there sufficient conditioning, thickness and tensile strength for each structure?

    Only when we understand and answer these questions can we determine if the horse is adequately hoof sound, and develop a plan for improvement. If we change lifestyle, terrain or job then we must change our perception of hoof soundness.

    Just because a hoof has deformities does not mean that the horse cannot be judge hoof sound for its job. “Correcting” a hoof deformity is never without sacrifice, there must be respect made to gate and confirmation as well as lifestyle, job and terrain.

    Changes in confirmation are almost always seen in the hoof first. Hoof changes can tell us when the limb has developed a shorter stride or is being loaded with an imbalance. The hoof gives us information about diet and overall health. The hoof can tell us when the horse is stressed.

    When conditioning a hoof for a new job or terrain the changes we make ideally should improve the confirmation, lengthen and/or strengthen the stride and increase overall performance.

    There is a difference between hoof pain that passes quickly and chronic pain. In most cases we can condition through pain that passes quickly. It can be more difficult to condition through chronic pain which is usually a sign of more serious soft tissue or bone injury, or lamina failure.

    Knowing how the five basic hoof structures relay signals to the horse’s brain during locomotion enables us to define lameness as it relates to the hoof. There is a wealth of knowledge in the understanding of the internal structures that make-up the hoof, the nervous system and the role blood flow has in shock absorption within the hoof and I urge you to do more research on your own.

    Unless the situation is dire most ignore invasive pathogens that are always extremely detrimental to hoof growth. It can be difficult to address “husbandry” with owners and the market offers little help if the training demands the horse be confined to a stall for long periods of time. Fungus and anaerobic bacterial can devour tissue faster than the hoof can replace it.

    Pathogens can tunnel deep into compromised tissue. While Fungus is evasive, especially to the frog, it binds damaged hoof wall and bar tissue together in a similar fashion to lamina’s lamella. When we kill fungus we weaken these secondary connections and causes wall flaring and thinner soles. Killing fungus also opens pathways in the white line and hoof wall for anaerobic bacterial to flourish, which is much more evasive than fungus.

    The best way to control pathogen infections in the hoof wall is to ignore fungus and kill anaerobic bacteria by keeping it open to the air and removing it. The horse can outgrow fungus when the lifestyle and mechanical forces causing separation are corrected and hoof wall, and bar growth is accelerated with diet, exercise and frequent trimming.

    Too often anaerobic bacterial is deep into the hoof wall making it difficult to safely pare-out on a barefoot horse. Exfoliating dead tissue plays a huge role in the misdirection of growth. To solve this I recommend a cleaning method that penetrates deep into infected tissue without damaging healthy cells, a special power-wash to keep the hoof very clean, with a once daily two minute application. This allows the hoof care practitioner to see how the hoof’s basic structures are growing, without the need to exfoliate with a knife.

    Daily trimming with the five basic hoof structures in mind and pathogens under control the hoof begins to quickly reverse many of the pathologies that have troubled domestic horse for centuries. Starting a foal from birth may offer the best opportunities to grow a pathogen free hoof and horse whose performance will exceed all expectations with little to no need for trimming.

  • Great info. Barefoot trimming is my preference and works for us (my 3 horses). I’ve learned some nutrition, hoof care and other things from my bf trimmer. I live in Tennessee and grew up in a family that raised TWHs many of whom ended up in those dratted training barns that sore. My family had several “big lick” horses and the last time I went to the celebration I was holding a sign in protest. It is WRONG. I enjoy my trail horses on the trail either barefoot or booted. I’m so glad that many years ago I unexpectedly discovered a book that influenced me to try bf trimming for my horses. It is a good thing!

  • You don’t have a clue about what a barefoot trim is or the reasons behind it. FYI, the hoof wall is NOT the primary weight bearing structure. Look up the latest information and research.

  • As soon as I see the hoof geek blog come on my news feed I stop to read it straight away. This is yet another article to keep you thinking and on your toes ( catching puns!). I never fail to learn something really useful. Often the obvious is overlooked and also what is obvious ( when you know ) you have never thought about until Debs points it out!

  • Great reading, makes a lot of sense. I’ll be the one to leave a comment about a wonderful farrier, who studied barefoot trim and looks at the whole horse, not just the hoof. I previously had a wonderful barefoot trimmer, but when she retired needed someone and there werent any barefoot trimmers coming to my area, so I tried a farrier I had spoken to in the past (ex military farrier, he even explained that while he was in the military he was taught that all horses should have shoes off for at least three months a year and that shoeing was sometimes a necessary evil, interesting concept from a farrier), he has helped loads with my thoroughbred, who is 18 and still barefoot, and even though he has been trimming my two horses for about three years now he still takes the time to watch them move and assess the whole horse.

  • What a wonderful post! Taking in all aspects of the horse well-being is something that barefoot trimmers more often do, just like you said. I’ve met wonderful farriers, but more often the stressed kind, that take pride in “getting it done” to all cost.

  • The difference between most but certainly not all is, a lot a farriers will resort to shoeing when the horse goes lame or foot sore,a trimmer would find out why and never give up trying.

  • To see a pictures of a Big Lick barn of horrors google the Humane Society’s photos of Larry Wheelon’s barn & the latest HS undercover investigation of ThorSport’s barn. Two extremes of the Big Lick industry

  • Your article was very good, but I would like to expand on your comments on soring as I felt they left a misconception on soring. The idea that a “weighted contraption” is the only thing that contributes to the exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick” is false despite what your farrier friend says. Several universities have done studies on the practice of soring. Weighted shoes aka “pads” (sometimes filled with cement), along with chains are called “action devices” that are used Along with cruel behavioral training methods, chemical applications on hooves & pasterns & sometimes a practice known as “pressure shoeing” as a way to achieve the Big Lick. All these methods are used together to get a reaction to pain which is the Big Lick “gait”. Let’s be clear, the use of just pads & chains will not achieve the Big Lick. All the other horrible methods must be used together to achieve it. The torture & abuse the Big Lick / Performance Tennessee Walking Horse endures in the name of family entertainment is a national embarrassment. Due to political corruption, laws are not enforced & politicians have blatantly accepted contributions from Big Lick enthusiasts to hold up the PAST Act (prevent all soring techniques). Many U.K. Nationals have taken time to write US elected officials to support it & reject this cruel practice & we Anti Soring Advocates are very thankful to them for doing so, because it shows that this dirty little secret is out of the bag & consequently politicians (especially Tennessee Governor Bill Haslem) have taken notice that the world is watching. As to your farrier friend, he is either in deep denial or just straight out lying to you that none of the horses he has shod have been sored. He needs to get some courage to say “no” to contributing to this heinous practice. For the latest in the anti big lick cruelty movement, check out & FOSH (friends of sound horses). Lickers are in an all out PR campaign & sometimes try to exhibit Big Lick horses abroad, please let your local animal cruelty organization know that these horses have been abused. Again to all those that have helped us protest soring, thanks, you have helped us enormously

  • Good article, I’ve often had people ask me why I use a bf trimmer instead of a farrier – truth is I’ve used both, and like you say some are good and some are not so good. One of the most important things for me is that when I ask them a question, I want it answered, I don’t want an over simplified half-answer, because that tells me either they assume that I know nothing, or they don’t know why they’re doing a particular thing! I want their knowledge, their help, I want them to be pleased I’m taking an interest in my horse’s health – I read & learn as much as possible; when I treated humans I loved being asked questions – aside from the above reasons, it kept me thinking about what I was doing & why. If I couldn’t help someone I knew I had to go away and learn why, and how I could be doing something more, or differently. I want to be asked what I feed my horse, and why, and how I keep her, I want discussion.. if I don’t get that the farrier /trimmer doesn’t get my business.
    I’ve heard so many people say how ‘good’ their farrier /trimmer is because they’re a lovely person, they’ll chat all day about everything, but never question what they’re doing with a hoof -that does not make good foot care.

  • I love the article. I particularly love the explanation of the difference of the two. When my husband and I decided to go professional coming up with a name was interesting. We did not want anything that suggested barefoot or farrier because we have a whole horse approach we wanted the name to not be misleading. That diet, exercise, movement, environment and a balanced trim were all key to success. I did not want potential clients to be mislead by are name as to what to expect from our services.

    Thank you again for this article and your site. We love it.

  • I trim a limited number of horses in addition to my regular job, and I’ve been trimming for 15 years. I initially wanted to go to horseshoeing school, but couldn’t afford it. At the same time, in 2001, my horse foundered. She was so lame she could barely move, and the x-rays revealed coffin bone rotation. That started my journey to learning how to trim and learning all about barefoot and any negative effects of metal and nails. After one year of barefoot trimming, my horse was completely sound. She was so sound that no one believed me when I told them she had foundered, and she was very comfortable riding on gravel roads.

    A couple years later, I was finally able to go to horseshoeing school. After graduation, I put shoes on horses for one year. But it bothered me that the shod horses didn’t have as good of hoof health as their barefoot counterparts. The barefoot crowd was definitely onto something. My conscience wouldn’t let me ignore that barefoot produced healthier feet long term. I couldn’t look at owners and say metal was the best for their horse’s feet, because I had seen otherwise. That’s when I became exclusively barefoot.

    I could make a lot of money shoeing. In fact, I think that is why many farriers still shoe. It comes down to bread and butter. I can trim a horse for $30. However, I can trim and put front shoes on that same horse for $70. Shoeing would double my income per horse. A farrier can make $30,000 per year trimming horses. But if that same farrier puts any kind of shoeing combination on 2/3 of those horses, that farrier can make $50,000-$70,000 per year. That’s a pretty good pay raise That’s why a lot of farriers still defend fixed metal footwear. It’s all about economics and paying the mortgage, heating and electric bills every month.

    I don’t make as much money trimming horses to ride barefoot, and I have thought about returning to shoeing for the good paycheck. But I’m just not about the money. My advice to any horse owner is to do as much as you can with your horse(s) barefoot. If your horse is to be kept barefoot, make sure they are getting a barefoot trim and not a pasture trim. Barefoot trimming is typically more conservative (it’s really such a simple trim). Pasture trimming aggressively trims the sole and frog, which can cause tenderness on hard ground. Keep your horse(s) barefoot as much as you possibly can and give them plenty of time to develop sturdy feet and apply shoes (fixed-metal hoof protection) judiciously and sparingly.

  • Love that everyone is talking about going barefoot, and how artificial shoes are. The horse wasn’t born with them was he? Well he wasn’t born with a saddle on either or a bit in his mouth but that doesn’t stop as slapping one on even if the horse runs away when he/she hears us coming with the bridle, or flinches when we put the saddle on or do up the girth and they jump, oh they are just girthy, someone must have yanked on it. Everything about riding a horse is artificial, I would say the shoes being the least of it all. I could go on and on and on and on but end of the day shoes are the least of any horses problem. please get off your (excuse the pun) high horse people and just let horse owners decide on their own whether their horse needs to be shod or not. No hoof, no horse and what works for one might not work for another.

    • That might be how you feel about it Jane, but even if what you say may seem to sound logical it´s not… The horse with it´s relatively big body and long narrow legs is taking a lot of damage because of shoes. Look into dr. Bowkers research on this. Bearing the weight at the edge of the hoof is causing micro-damage at every step. The result? Death at half of the normal age… When the horse cannot walk anymore it´s put down.

    • Provided we ride with compassion and classical principles, get our equipment checked to make sure it fits comfortably and correctly and if the rider is educated and balanced I do not believe we are doing harm.
      However, hooves are not designed to load peripherally, Joints suffer harm from the concussion forced up through the leg by wearing metal shoes. The hoof cannot move as it is designed to do when metal shoes are applied. Studs in shoes stop the horse short, whereas the hoof allows for steady traction. We moved on from metal tyres on vehicles to rubber ones, yet horse owners are stuck in the dark ages when applying metal to their horses hooves.

  • Good article. Have you heard about the new easy care screw on shoes that are actually flexible, not unlike normal metal ones, which are not. My barefoot trimmer and friend, has used them, even on her own horse, who had always had problems ( was also injured, as a youngster) and now the horse’s way of going, is so much better.

  • Oh PS and Mo Hoyal again. Please do not think that just because my mare is gaited, Tennessee Walking Horse, that I would ever allow the archaic way of hurting these beauties by allowing this kind of hoof/shoeing abuse be done to her-she is not show ring and I am glad she’s not, but the building up of those hooves, the chains, etc., I’ve seen my full of them, and this practice that is harmful should be banned!

  • Boy am I glad this article came to me on Facebook! It’s been stupid here-in America-with most all natural horse practitioners, now they call themselves, and many doing the Mustang roll! My horse is gaited, not a mustang who runs many miles over the plains and with what goes on with her front hooves-possible laminitis but not bad, I could never trail ride her without shoes on her front feet. Barefoot or mustang trims are not for every horse, however, the people who do hoof work here will not hear this and all are anti shoes telling me “give me a year and you can ride her on any surface”, well, I went through two years of two different guys with no results! Presently I am writing and gathering stories and especially articles from all I can for my book ironically called “The Hoof And I”. My interpretation of this title is because the hoof has been literally all over my poor body! I could ride with the wind……anyway, I would be thrilled if you would approve and send me this article for my book and I will give proper credits and use it as a reprinted article. My e-mail address is: hidden and I do sincerely hope you will contact me. I also love your sense of humor! Thanks so much and still waiting for the day I can come to the homeland of my grandparents! Ms. Mo Pascoe-Hoyal

  • I think you hit the proverbial “nail on the head” 🙂 The difference is absolutely mindset. There is good and bad everywhere. However, the biggest difference in mindset is the tools that one uses in the tool box. If I were presented with a horse to trim that wrings it’s hocks, rather than shoes with trailers, I’d suggest bodywork (chiro/massage). I’ve watched that eliminate the problem time and time again. In my experience, a lot of issues that show up in the hooves/legs is directly related to issues higher up in the body. Fix the source, the rest will follow.

    A shoe will help to stabilize a fractured coffin bone, absolutely. But so will a cast. Horse has thin soles? Get the diet, exercise and environment right to help it grow a better hoof, and in the meantime ride in boots.

    Farriers reach for metal, “barefooters” want to know the cause and use things besides metal to fix it. I can think of no instance where a shoe is the *only* way to treat an ailment. There is always another option. The “barefooters” simply choose the other options. All have the best interest of the horse in mind. Personally, I feel that anytime you can avoid nailing rigid metal to a dynamic, flexible structure, you’re doing better than what tradition tells us we can do. All horses *can* go without metal shoes, but not all people can have horses without metal shoes.

    Thanks for this article, it puts words to a lot of my own thoughts.

  • Hi , I am always interested in reading what people have to say about anything to do with horses’ hooves . I learned to shoe in 1972 and went full time in 1977. I guess my shoeing days are over as I had a stroke in2016. The point I want to make is what I was taught, ‘ Shoeing is an evil necessity. If a horse can go barefoot all it’s life , let it’. When left barefoot , the hoof is left a little longer and with a little more soul to give it the protection that a shoe would. The edges are rounded to help prevent chipping . Many horses that are sore with shoeing are sore because of ‘lazy’ shaping of the shoe and there are bad nails driven in the hoof. Here in Canada we have stone dust everywhere to help us deal with mud. These fine pieces get into the white line and then we get wall separation and an abscess. Shoes prevent that. As far as balance is concerned , there should be no difference in barefoot or shoeing. It is the same horse.
    My thoughts

  • With all the more advanced and newer technology for running tests and dissections of hooves, more has been discovered about the equine hoof in the last twenty to thirty years than in all of human/horse history. Yes lifestyle greatly takes effect on the soundness of horses. They have species appropriate living conditions which most people are not aware of, what many people provide horses with as far as their living conditions actually goes against what is appropriate for their species, thus the health of the hooves and the strength of their soundness goes out the window. Mind that I am not including those horses who have genetic hoof problems, but those as well were for the most part also created by humans. So, with the new advances in technology and the discovery of the five hearts hoof mechanism more ideas arise from those who truly want to help horses without hindering the function of hoof mechanism, that is for horses who have something close to a species appropriate lifestyle. So new products have come to assist horses transitioning to being comfortable while waiting for the new stronger hooves to grow in. I have been around horses my whole life and was trained and certified over ten years ago in barehoof trimming and lifestyle with continued education consistently, and it is both of these. For horses kept in mucky stalls do not fare well being barefoot unless their stalls and hooves are cleaned twice a day, hooves treated for thrush each time, and plenty of exercise daily or turn out time with varying types of terrain in their turn out space. Horses on soft irrigated pastures will grow hooves suited for being sound on soft ground. Horses who have varied terrain and gravel where they run or move around will grow hooves accustomed to that terrain. Rule of thumb: if you want a barehoof horse to be sound walking across gravel then they must have gravel in their corral, their hooves soundness and strength grow according to the environment and lifestyle they live when you are not with them, this is not accounting for previous internal hoof damage before you bought the horse or from years of improper lifestyle or hoof deformities. Is barehoof trimming based on science, you betcha. Is farriery based on science? You betcha! They are two different kinds of sciences, one for the convenience of the humans and because of improper living conditions shoes are sometimes needed. I also shoe, but I having experimented with various types of flexible shoes found one that works very well for rehabilitation or helping a horse to be sound while they are getting better circulation and growing in their new hooves. Flexible shoes which do not inhibit hoof flexibility and hoof mechanism from functioning are really the best way to go. With ground control shoes, which outlast steel three to one, do not slip on pavement or on rocks, still allows the flexion, expansion, and contraction, and compression of the hoof and sole to fully function for maximum circulation which is the very science of physiology which promotes healthy stronger hoof tissues I would think that with the horses best interest in mind that more and more people would begin to use these. But old habits die hard and cognitive dissonance plays a big part in people not wanting to change. Some of the best barehoof books I studied were written by an equine veterinary scientist. I would not separate farriery and barefoot trimming by saying that one is science based and the other is lifestyle based. They are both based on science. One the science of the physiology of the internal hoof blood pumping organ, and the other which thinks that it can be fixed from the outside in rather than the inside out. They are both scientific approached coming from two completely separate ideals and separate directions. One is holistic, the other is conventional.

  • My girl has never been shod and I am lucky enough to have a new farrier who understands this. Although he checks her feet when he comes to the yard to shoe the other horses he only trims when necessary. So while the others on the yard are shod every five weeks, he checks her and does her every ten weeks. Her feet are now much more balanced and she is moving well.

  • Superb article, and confirms my opinion that I’m blessed to have the best of both worlds in a ptruly amazing “farrier” who loves shoeless and always does the minimum shoeing for the needs of the horse at any given time – my horses vary through the year from barefoot to front shod to fully shod due to their lifestyle and workload and they really are in the best hands of a man who fulfills your descriptions of the best of both professions – yyp, I make coffee and buy a bottle at Christmas!!

  • Well put together article. Would have like to see some info about barefoot horses and the bio-mechanics of a horse’s movement and hoof structure to back up your opinions. I was a barefoot trimmer for 10 years, originally trained and certified through the ANNHCP and then later moved towards the American Hoof Association guidelines. I agree that movement, diet and environment are key, but it is also very important to know how form and function of the horse’s hooves are just as important. It all still comes down to anatomy and physiology. Also, the desire on the hoof care professional’s to continue to learn- the best trimmers/farriers will always consider themselves to be students of the hoof.

    Tami Davis

  • Loved your article thank you as i was a little confused between the difference – I’m based in the UK and use a farrier for trimming all my horses and in my opinion he does what is right for the horse, my girl (been bare foot for 13 years) who is retired now has very long feet and some my say i don’t look after them but she has them trimmed every 6 – 8 weeks depending on the time of year and my farrier knows to take her feet right back to look how people think they should look would just make her extremely sore, she has no rounding off done as its to uncomfortable to hold her legs up for to long now so i praise my farrier for doing what is right for her. He is now trimming my youngsters feet and we have agreed they are not going to have shoes so i trust him to do what is right. I have found a good person and in my opinion he has the knowledge to be able to handle both trim and shoe.

  • I am a natural horsemanship trainer, a barefoot horse owner, and an American Saddlebred owner and enthusiast. I enjoyed your article for the most part but do take issue with your classification of weighted shoes as being “ridiculous”. I so often find myself in defense of the saddle horse fancy, particularly when unknowing folks lump us all into the “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse horrors. That is where the soring, both mechanical and chemical is taking place. Where insanely huge “packages” are nailed to their horse’s feet to exaggerate the gate. But please don’t confuse weighted shoes with torture. The saddlebreds who do have any weight added to the shoe itself (not huge packages) have only 8 to 12 ounces added, and then only during training. The weight is added strategically to the toe or heel of the shoes, depending on desired outcome (for instance locking in the rack for a five gaited horse). It’s an aid to direct flight and landing path, much as a rocker shoe or shoes with trailers help correct and direct traveling issues with other horses. My oldest saddlebred was a former 5 gaited show horse who went barefoot in his later years, and never took a lame step. My current horses are barefoot, but wear weighted boots specially designed by my trimmer to help in their training and gaiting. Saddlebred horses (while they do carry a lot of foot during show season, which I don’t particularly care for) are NOT sored. If for no other reason, than that our horses must trot as well as gait in the show ring, and a sored horse would not trot square. Please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water or lump all gaited or weighted horses together. Thank you for allowing my comment. 🙂

  • What a lovely conversation!

    I was just discussing this particular topic with my husband today, wondering if there were “anywhere in the world” that farriers and barefoot trimmers could come together in peace and talk about the possibilities and logic of using their training and abilities on a case by case basis.

    So often it seems that dogma and egos override the actual needs of the horse and sometimes those of the owner/client. Reality dictates that a horse’s hoof care needs may change or be different from his stable mate’s. Not everyone is the same, even (especially)!!!, horses! 🙂

    Thanks for being so sensible and for having this great come-together! I appreciate the information!

    • Thanks Michelle. I’m not often called sensible – but I do manage it every now and then 🙂 Large egos do seem rife in the equestrian world, though I’ve come to realise it’s because the sensible people are just keeping quiet and getting on with it, rather than making noise. I guess I’m trying to make noise for us quiet ones! 🙂

  • Hi Debs!

    I am a horsewoman of 30+ years mostly working,breeding and racing in the TB industry. I’ve always been of the traditional mindset and in 2009 I sadly had to put my Anglo down who foundered quite rapidly due to a foot abscess that went systemic. It caused him to go into liver failure and foundered in 3 feet; I was devastated to say the least.

    I ended up rescuing this gorgeous Appaloosa gelding who started showing signs of lameness as I rode him more and more. Long story short, I ran the gamut of every diagnostics test and we found he truly had Navicular. His Navicular bone literally looks like Swiss cheese. My vet who is a pretty conservative guy was shocked to see that he was still above ground. So of course we, (myself, vet and farrier) ran the gamut of pharmaceuticals and “traditional” shoeing methods and they would only work for short amounts of time. I was so brokenhearted thinking that euthanasia for “Eddie” was his best option. I scoured other alternatives and finally came upon the Barefoot Trimmer site and directory of trimmers in my area. So, my last ditch effort to save “Eddie” I called a BT and she came not promising anything. It took her awhile to pull the shoes but once she did and she trimmed him. It was like someone gave Eddie new feet! He was quite hesitant to walk off but within twenty minutes this horse who could barely work in shoes ACTUALLY was taking full strides at a walk! I stood there in awe, I cried and hugged my trimmer. I NEVER looked back and honestly I WILL NEVER put another show on any horse I ever own again. Mind you “Eddie” is going to be 25 this year and is doing alright, no drugs, has boots with pads when needed, herbs for any inflammation and 24/7 turnout with the proper vitamin/minerals to support the hoof. I also want to say that I agree on your philosophy re: the mind set, in order to grow you have to allow yourself to be open to the possibilities. Nothing is ever set in stone ~ thank you for the article:)

  • This article is wonderful. It brings to light the fact that hoofcare is really a mindset, wether you look at just the hoof itself or the whole picture. Fantastic! A couple years ago my gelding was abcessing, and the veterinarian advised our farrier, but he didn’t really listen. I started educating myself and took over, finding his bars completely laid over to his walls. He’s been barefoot ever since. I realized it wasn’t just the trimming that needed to change, everything else had to follow suit. He’s now out 24/7 with a run in, over various surfaces and has had processed feeds cut out of his diet. He’s a happy boy.

  • I like what the first reply said, only I will add, not all”farriers” are created equally. In my opinion, one can not call oneself a farrier if the rig lacks a forge and at least a couple pieces of bar stock. Second, dont label all shoes as an “appliance” in a negative context. A straight bar shoe with quarter clips and side clips does wonders for a fractured coffin bone, as does a patten bar shoe for a horse with deep flexor/suspensory injuries. How would a barefoot-only trimmer help those two? BAREFOOT WHEN POSSIBLE, SHOD WHEN NECESSARY. What determines necessary? When added protection (what do you do when a size 2 boot is too big, but a size 1 boot is too small?), support, or therapeutic needs. I have several horses that are getting up in years, and egg bars give them the little extra they need to stay comfortable. One big factor is left out of most barefoot-only arguments- genetics. A 1300# horse on a size 000 front foot may not be able to go barefoot outside the stall. That foot size is determined at fertilization of the egg. It is 90-95% inherited. No amount of trimming is going to give that horse the 14″ foot it needs

    • I agree Dan, barefoot isn’t suitable for all horses – and nethier is farriery, which is why I think it’s great when we can work together and exchange ideas rather than trying to lump all barefoot into one box and all farriery into another box. I didn’t mean any kind of negative context to calling shoes a tool. Tools are bloomin useful things! Even more so when you’ve got the right tool for the job.

    • I agree Dan, all feet aren’t created equal. I also think farriers got a bad wrap by trimming a horse for shoes and then using the same trim for a barefoot ‘pasture’ trim.
      When I started it was about 2 months between shoes so you trimmed close. The shoes kept the sole off the ground a bit so they weren’t ouchy. Money was a concern for most horse owners so 2 months was a good compromise.
      An ouchy foot can be caused by the trim or conformation or both. You can cause lots of damage with a barefoot horse with thin soles. Stones are the culpert, sole bruising, ouchy feet. The hoof can be perfectly balanced but the horse can’t walk. In this case shoes are almost an instant fix, at least until the bruising is healed and the sole has time to regenerate.
      This discussion could go on forever but to me all hooves aren’t created equal, all riding conditions aren’t the same. The living conditions are different and therefore the hoof care is different. No one size fits all.

  • First off I am not a farrier just a vet tech and human nurse. I have owned numerous horses during my life and some do great barefoot and some do not. It has a lot to do with genetics and use. I’ve owned mustangs and never put shoes on them, Arabs seem to fair well without shoes and some quarter horses. Now some of my Tb’s are challenging . I have a 16 year old TB mare that I barrel race on barefoot but she has hooves made out of iron! But she is the exception not the rule. I agree with you every farrier/owner/horse has too many equations to follow only one solution.

  • Great article, most especially the ”There is no right or wrong. It’s about what suits you and your horse.” So many barefoot pages I have been on are dogmatically this way or no way. Similarly, the comment above from Performance Farrier – if there were more farriers that thought like you, there’d be less of the pages like the ones I mentioned earlier! What is best for my horses is what concerns me, I choose to have all of mine barefoot, I have had farrier trims and have a very good non farrier barefoot trimmer come out to me, which is a trip involving a flight to an island and an overnight stay. I am the only person in my community that uses this method. I am also, to my knowledge, the only person who is riding out and working them for the coming season and not either off lame or waiting for the farrier to come and put a shoe back on. For the third year in a row, (apart from one mare who we bought in) I have not had lameness or hoof complaints or soreness over winter. All my horses are sound, ridden either barefoot or with hoof boots if necessary. If one of my horses was unwell, lame or suffering, and a joint consultation told me that the best and most efficient way to heal my horse was to shoe, by golly I’d do it. In the end, it’s all about respect. Respect for your horse, for yourself and for others. More than one road leads to Rome as they say – or in the Scottish vernacular – you take the high road and I’ll take the low road…

  • I enjoyed your article. I am a farrier of the horse, I’ve been shoeing and trimming for 28 years. I have been blessed, to be able to work and do research with some of the top researchers and farriers in the world. A couple of which shoe the gaited horses and I’ve seen it done right from three and four year olds to 20 year old saddle breads who have never had any lameness issues. I’ve done over 500 disections and been ivolved with research and development of cutting edge technologies. I spent seven years as a tech in an equine motion analysis lab where I was also responsible for making sure that the horses involved in the study were consistently trimmed to the same standards. I have competed in AFA competitions with great success with some of the best in the industry. Enough about me.
    What I hear and see from all points of the industry is everybody is on their own soap box. Barefoot trimming is only good if like you mentioned it is followed with the entire program of diet,exercise and attention. Well guess what, so is shoeing, with the right program shoeing is very helpful and beneficial. I work with a lot of barefoot horses and their owners with a lot of success. How ever barefoot science has its limits or tolerances. And when it comes to morphology, environmental changes can be made. Physiological problems can be addressed but to help the horse achieve maximal performance the aplication of the correct shoe and weight can help a horse achieve better results quicker, much like physical therapy, helping the horse to use the correct muscle groups and work through atrophy because of congenital problems or injury, or improper riding. An example is a horse that rings it’s hocks over a period of time the horse has learned to use the wrong muscles and the correct ones get atrophied. With the proper aplication of a corrective shoe and occupational therapy the atrophy can be rehabilitated and thus improving the performance of the horse. There is a place in our industry for all different kinds of farriers barefoot and iron. Working with owners and vets to build a successful program for the horse. continued education is important to our industry. Thank you.

    • Ferformance Farrier? You may have done a lot of research and learned a lot but it seems not much for your understanding of the mechanism. Metal shoes is middle ages science and the only improvement is that you can now buy shoes off the shelf.

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