“It’s not about the trim.”

Said pretty much every barefoot trimmer ever…


Sometimes with a further explanation, sometimes a hand to the forehead in frustration, sometimes with a chuckle, and sometimes with some expletives thrown in. But trust me, we’ve all said it (or at least I hope we have).

Now the problem lies in qualifying that statement. Overall the statement is about as useful as the “Do no harm” mantra that everyone spouts about like belief in it proves that what you’re doing must be good. News flash – it doesn’t.

You see, for “Do no harm” to mean anything then we have to understand fully, exactly what actions would result in harm, which in the context of trimming feet, means we’d need to know everything about the feet and hooves, everything about the environment including the future weather, everything about the horse owner and more.

Do you get the picture? We can’t possibly know everything that we need to know to be sure we won’t do harm. We can have the best intentions, and we can have a good level of knowledge, but there’s always things that are beyond our scope and perception (regardless of whether we have the clarity and courage to see and admit our limits).

And the same can be said about “It’s not about the trim”

For many people this means it’s about nutrition. And they’re right, to a point, nutrition is important.

For some people it’s about correct exercise, and conditioning. And they’re right too, that’s important

For some people it’s about basic health, are the internal systems of the horse working properly. Yep that’s also important.

But what if I were to come along and trim the hoof out of balance, maybe even take it so short, red stuff leaks out? Would health, nutrition and exercise help then? Then it would be about the trim wouldn’t it.

(don’t misunderstand me, I’m snuggled up in bed with Snap my cat reading a book called Clarity right now. Well more accurately taking a short break from reading the book, and writing an article – my point is, I’ve no intention of trimming any horses today well or badly)

And that’s the thing. Almost everyone who’s said “It’s not about the trim” will also have, at some point gone on to say that hoof balance is important, or a ‘farrier trim’ (like there’s only 1 way in which farriers trim?!?!) isn’t suitable, or some part of the hoof capsule needs… bla bla bla

So where does that leave us? Knowing that trimming, nutrition, exercise and health are important. And most of what everyone (not just trimmers – but all human beings) says is often confusing and at best incomplete.


But that’s not my point here, stick with me and it’ll all become clear (I hope!)

It’s not about the trim 🙂 (inspite of what I’ve said above)

It’s not about the nutrition 🙂 (I can feel barefoot evangelists bearing down on my house coming to murder me and my poor unsuspecting cat in our bed for that one!!! Snap might survive I suppose)

It’s not about the health!! (well ok, it’s always about the health, but for the purposes of this post, it’s not about the health)

It’s not about the shoes!!! (yikes the evangelists have sped up!!! I better get on with it and make my point!!!!)

It’s about overuse of exclamation marks!!!!!!! No – wait….

It’s about perception!

You see I’ve just got to the bit in the book where the author (Jamie Smart if you’re interested) is talking about an experiment by a psychologist called George Stratton. He made a funky pair of glasses that inverted what the wearer would see. ie, when you put them on everything is upside down.

Turns out, if you wear them for 4 days everything looks upside down for 4 days. By the 5th day wearing them, his perception had ‘corrected’ everything so it was right way up again.

What’s more when he then took the glasses off, his vision went upside down again and took a few days to correct what he was seeing back to normal.

For me, that’s what all this is about. What is it that you’re looking at, and what kind of glasses do you have on, or what vision/perception do you have.

Are you looking at a thoroughbred hoof with the perception of a wild horse hoof in your mind? Is a wild mustang hoof capsule the correct model for a stabled 15yo thoroughbred?

Are you applying farriery science to rehabilitating a hoof that’s barefoot, and will your methods work on a barehoof in the same way it would on a hoof with a metal support?

Are you looking at a balance issue and trying to find a supplement to correct it?

Are you looking at a gait issue and trying to find a trim to change it?

Are you looking at a hoof capsule without considering the internal structures of the foot inside that hoof capsule?

When you make these decisions, are you aware that your decisions are based on the model you’re following. Are you aware that a model is something that is similar to the real thing? It’s not exactly the same. There will be times the model doesn’t work.

Do you keep in mind, that no matter how good you are, no matter how many times a day you’re right, that there are gaps in all our knowledge and it’s possible you’re missing a bit that you needed for this one case? (don’t let this cripple you, but do allow it to keep your mind open and your ego in check)

Are you aware that while one way works, there might be more than just one way to climb the mountain (or heal the hoof, or whatever it is you’re doing).

If you’re not aware of these things, then we have a tendency to make what we’re seeing fit what we know. But what if we don’t know what we’re looking at? What if it’s the first time we’ve seen something?

There was a time, not too long ago when it was considered preposterous to suggest that a doctor was able to pass on infection by not washing his hands. No one could ‘see’ it was possible. It was simply beyond their perception, with the knowledge base they had.

Now it’s considered very unlikely that a doctor isn’t passing on infection. Hospitals are littered with signs asking patients to ask their doctor and nurses to sanitise their hands!

Even if you’re not the one trimming your horse, if you use a professional to trim and advise you, are you aware that all of these things affect them. Not only that, but all of these things affect which professionals you agree with!

We naturally agree with what makes sense to us, which isn’t far off from agree with people who are telling us what we want to hear.

A bit like people choosing the Atkins diet based on being able to eat what they want to. It helps them maintain their bad habits, rather than choosing a healthy diet, which is things they wouldn’t normally eat, but would get them the results they really wanted.

Please don’t take this post to mean you can’t trust anyone and none of us know what we’re saying or doing or seeing! It’s just meant to increase your awareness, which will help you make decisions that are more likely to get you the results you want.

Change is hard, keeping things the same is comfortable (even if it’s painful). Thing is, most people look into barefoot because they want something to change. Usually they want their horse to be more sound.

If you want to change your results, you have to change your actions, so you have to change your methods, and sometimes that means you’re going to have to change your perception. The great thing is – once you’ve changed your perception… the rest is much easier!

What do you think? Have I made a good point or have the pain meds gone to my head? (I haven’t had any in days btw)
What were the changes in perception that you went through before taking your horse barefoot?
Have you had to change your perception to shoe your barefoot horse?
Did you need a change in perception to take a good look at your horses diet?
Or were you right all along, and you had to look for people whose perception was similar to yours!
Tell me all about it in the comments box below


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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.

  • Yes I agree that the one size fits all idea is a real problem. Too often horsey folk can act like they know it all and tell everyone else how to do things. I think there is knowledge and there is also instinct. I think the instinct comes from listening to what the horse is saying, whether that be a health or a training issue, and that inspires us to increase our knowledge to get to bottom of the issue.
    I was rocking along quite happily shoeing my horses until I had one that couldn’t keep a shoe on and the nails pulled great chunks of hoof wall off everytime the shoe was lost. The barefoot concept wasn’t as widely advocated then, so my journey was trial and error with various supplements and hoof boots but I did see a huge improvement in his feet, eventually. But at the time I really didn’t have a clue if I was doing the right thing.
    I don’t think you can ever have enough knowledge or experience

  • Very thought provoking. I think perception seems to apply to everything to do with horses. The more knowledge I seek the more concerned I am about what is best for my horses. Their environment seems to be forever changing and I seem to be forever adapting to the current situation. These beautiful large creatures seem so vulnerable in so many ways… yet they are so often silent in their discomfort. One of my ponies had three years of hoof wall separation and resections. Her foot is good now but we did revert to shoeing her front feet which I do think really helped. I think she’s got some underlying issue/ defect with her white line in one foot. Now I look at her frogs and think she’d be better off barefoot but I’m scared to make this change as I am afraid the old issue might reappear. My farrier thinks she should stay shod and he’s a believer in barefoot. Sorry I am full of waffle !!!!!!!! Or is that perception? !!!!!!

  • It’s not possible to give accurate step by step info on how hooves should be trimmed differently. Every hoof is different, every horse is different. You may even apply a different trim every 6 weeks to horse’s when they’re transitioning. There are so many things you would take into account when deciding what was needed. There’s a reason it takes years to train. That training is the step by step instructions, and even then you learn, develop and refine your techniques over the years with experience and new discoveries.

    I’m glad you’ve found what your horse needs. It can take a few trys sometimes 🙂

  • I appreciate your passion for hooves! Lately I’ve been searching for answers to side wall crumbling and underrun heels on 2 of my horses that are barefoot. I’ve also taken to doing some filing between trims and learning more.

      • Yes, but I still question how to help correct them. I noticed the medial wall next to the widest part of the frog on her front heels becomes cracked and folded inward and she has large frogs. PS I get your emails but when I respond I receive “The response from the remote server was: 550 High probability of spam”

        • It could be you have a virus. I don’t know why your emails are showing as spam.

          The wall at the quarters will often suffer with cracks when the heels are underrun. I can’t teach you how to trim over a blog. Discuss what’s going on with your hoof care professional, and see if you can come up with a plan to improve the whole horse.

  • It is refreshing to find someone else who looks outside of the box all the time. Iwent barefoot with the assistance of my farrier , we came to the conclusion his hooves could take it and we both did lots of research on the hows and whys of it all, including his background (being a hill born native) . Over the time i carry on reading or reasearching various information from different sources but the main thing i have found out is that you have to pick and choose and even adapt all the theories , information to you , your situation , and your horse . It is never one size fits all .
    The best advice i was ever given was, to get to know your own horse inside out, even the emotional side, Iguess that is a sort of perception , like yourself i listen , look and always question before i come to an answer . Is it because i am untrusting? … i guess so , to humans anyway, plus i have a strong gut instinct and i tend to follow it . The best thing is, is that we always continue learning and we never ever know it all . ☺

  • My horse does not fit into a “textbook trim”. Finding a trimmer willing to loose the book and read the hoof(and the whole horse) was way harder than it should have been.

    • It can be difficult, both for owner and professional. I remember 1 horse I used to trim, and it did take a serious conversation until I was willing to try what the owner suggested. It’s not that I didn’t respect her experience, it was that my experience told me that what she wanted would lame the horse. To this day trimming in that way would have caused most horses to be lame, not to mention that I was repeatedly ‘unbalancing’ the foot.

      It’s hard to justify if it doesn’t work. I mean, what would I have said… ‘yes I totally trimmed to unbalance the foot and in a way I knew would lame the horse. But the owner who isn’t trained in trimming suggested it’ The whole reason they’re paying me is for my experience 🙂 I did try it, and it did work. Yes sometimes you need to throw the book away as the book has never seen the horse, but it’s quite scary when you’re going against everything you think yo know!

      I’m glad you’ve found someone 🙂

  • Great article. My perception has changed on a great many things since coming back into horses from my youth. It’s still hard not to be excited by the sound of metal shoes clip clopping down the road but now after that first flutter of excitement I become uncomfortable knowing now what I’ve learnt recently on that issue and on many others. With me I try to learn a little something from everyone I meet and trust my instincts when I think something is wrong or I’m not in total agreement with even if I don’t know why I think it’s wrong!!

  • What an interesting article! As a midwife specialising in natural and homebirths, this is a situation I encounter daily! There is a real conflict between many midwives and doctors based around their differing philosophies of childbirth, and perception of risk is very much a part of that debate. The power of the words that we use can strongly influence others opinions, and thinking about the words we use when we debate issues with those that think differently can have a dramatic effect on the outcome. Horse people are no different, and each is coming with their own experiences and beliefs, and each is wanting to do the best for their horse. It is not our role to tell them, or bully them, or force them to change, but if we can help them constructively to start questioning their own and others practices, and to look at current research, then they will hopefully be able to make their own informed decisions. Thankyou 🙂

    • When I was training, one of my fellow students was a midwife. She always found many parallels as well… I guess people behave like people no matter what field they work in 🙂

  • Great article, thought provoking.
    My changes in perception? That my ‘peers’ don’t always know better. Just because they have been working with horses professionally since the dawn of time doesn’t mean they have been doing it in the best way. “There is more than one way to skin a cat” (sorry Snap). When I first took Hayde’s shoes off I was told by a highly respected and experienced horsewoman that a horses hoof would never be strong enough to ride on the road without disintegrating and that it was dangerous to jump barefoot – eventing barefoot was nigh on insanity. Needless to say she was wrong. Hayde is more surefooted now than he ever was in shoes and has competed (and placed) in BE affiliated events.

    • Thanks,

      Yes, I’m often interested by the way people say ‘there’s no way xxx can happen’ when actually what they mean is that they don’t know of a way that xxx could happen. That’s not the same thing as it being impossible. I don’t know how to make a phone, but they exist and work multiple times every day for a huge amount of people. Were they built based on my knowledge, we’d be back to yogurt pots and string! (which would be super cool now I think about it!!!)

      I catch myself falling into the ‘there’s no way…’ trap even though I know how inaccurate it is, so I find myself (internally) pointing and laughing at myself and then take another look. None of us have all the answers, I just can’t work out why it’s hard to admit that! I think it might be because (no matter how experienced, mislead or wrong) we’re all trying to protect the horse, and protection is in essence a defensive strategy, thus it can be easy to be closed down to new ideas, and not think them through.

      Hayde and his feet are awesome!


      P.S. Snap forgives you 🙂

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