There’s a lot of talk about what trimming methods to use, what should, or should never be done to a hoof.

I frequently hear people, particularly online, trying to boil down a ‘good’ trim into a catch phrase or 1 simple rule.  Is there such a thing as a golden rule of barefoot trimming?

Here are some of the things I’ve heard:

    • The most important part of the trim is the mustang roll
    • Never trim the frog
    • Let the horse find it’s own balance
    • Remove all the flare
    • Don’t remove flare
    • Remove only the bottom part of the flare
    • Never touch the sole
    • Remove the wall from ground bearing
    • Trim the bars out
    • Hooves don’t need trimming

It sounds great doesn’t it? If you don’t know enough about trimming to make your own decisions, having a simple golden rule to follow makes you feel like you understand.


Even the good old ‘DO NO HARM’ the golden rule of all golden rules! But what if you don’t have sufficient knowledge to know what will and won’t cause harm. What if you’re following a golden rule, which doesn’t actually apply to your horse.

The truth is, you need to understand what will and won’t cause harm. Not even professionals with years of experience get this right every time. How could they. We’re all comfortable with the idea that we’re learning more every day. But what that means is – there’s massive amounts we don’t know or understand yet.

If the top scientists and professionals don’t know it all, then there are gaps in everyone’s knowledge, and that means no-one is perfect all the time. Again we’re happy with the idea that humans make mistakes, but none of us want those mistakes to happen on our horses! Well we can’t have it all ways.

Also – you can’t have nice comfortable little golden rules to follow.

  • A mustang roll means nothing if the foot is too short, or out of balance, or suffering from pathology, riddled with infection, suffering from poor nutrition or if the hoof wall is so weak, it’s too thin, or not in contact with the ground.
  • What if the frog needs trimming. What if the horse has grown ½ inch of heel and frog, are you going to trim the heels into balance and leave the frog ½ inch higher than the rest of the foot? You would if you were following the rule!
  • Let the horse find it’s own balance. What if the horse is lame, has conformational issues, or old injuries which cause serious imbalance. If I followed that rule on some horses I know, they wouldn’t have the sole of their foot on the ground. They’d be walking on the wall of the side or the front of the hoof. That’s not their balance. That’s their imbalance.
  • The next 3 golden rules about flare contradict each other. Sounds like flare is confusing. Do you know the difference between flare and a stretched white line – from the outside they look similar.
  • Never touch the sole – really? not even when picking the foot out? How about a hoof that’s 12 inches long. Gonna have to trim through sole there. How about exfoliation. You can’t balance the foot properly without removing that.
  • Remove the wall from ground bearing – 99% of the time, just NO! Nothing wrong with a hoof wall, being in contact with the ground. There are occasions when doing this can help improve a pathology, but it causes problems too, which you need to be prepared to manage. It’s true that doing this can improve blood flow to the hoof, however a 400 yard sprint improves blood flow too. Doesn’t mean you want to do it 24/7.
  • Trim out the bars – Really? You think there’s a part of the hoof that’s not supposed to be there?
  • Hooves don’t need trimming? Well, some don’t, but to expect every owner everywhere to get the perfect amount of balanced wear and growth on their horses is just unrealistic. What if the horse is retired? What if the owner is injured and can’t ride? What if there’s a pathology or illness that causes an unexpected growth spurt?

That’s just a few short points about each of those common rules. I could go on (and on and on – you might have noticed that!) but my point is this, if you don’t understand a rule, when it should be applied and when it doesn’t apply, then it’s no help at all. Basically it’s a rule you don’t know how to follow.

If you had the understanding, you probably wouldn’t need the rule… Really a rule should be applicable in all situations. One rule for one and another rule for another is well known to cause frustration, confusion and general bad feeling.

Humans are fundamentally good – honestly (though sometimes we may be a little lost)

Do No Harm

This a good golden rule, it’s one that everyone is applying all the time. I don’t think anyone picks up a horses foot with the intention of harming the horse. (well ok I know it happens on occasion, when someone is really upset with the owner – but even then, they’re trying to hurt the owner, not the horse).

Humans genuinely try to do their best. We like people to think well of us, we like to be included, thus we do the best that we can with the knowledge, energy, clarity and good will that we have at the time. If we’re lacking in any of those areas, then we might not do a good job, but it’s still our best.


I sometimes feel like we’re creating a folklore of mistrust around our horses. That the owner is the only one with the best interests of our horse at heart. That the owner is the only one who ‘knows what’s best’.

It’s true, as owners, we do see our horses the most, we’ve known them the longest, but that’s not the same thing as knowing everything. When it comes down to it we’re the only one who gets to make the decisions – not least of all because we have to pay for them. It’s all our responsibility and ours alone.

Yes as owners we have the most comprehensive details of our horses lives, but that doesn’t mean we have the clarity to see the whole picture, the knowledge to interpret our observations, or the depth and breadth of experience to understand the full implications of our situation. (I include myself in that description of a horse owner)

Keeping horses is a lifelong hobby as there’s just so much to learn. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always more to learn about (assuming you don’t get closed minded of course) and that’s what most of us love about horses – it’s also what causes much frustration.

We’re never going to know it all, we are going to need to trust and rely on others. Just because someone is charging you for their advice and time, doesn’t mean that they don’t have your horses best interests at heart. It doesn’t mean that what they see isn’t there. It also doesn’t mean that they’re right every time.

How has it come about though, that it’s easier to trust some ‘golden rule’ that hasn’t been explained or qualified, that’s been written by someone who’s never met you or your horse, than it is to trust a professional, who’s giving you their time, knowledge, skills and undivided attention, applying everything they know specifically to you, your horse and your current situation.

I think it comes back to ‘Do no harm’. We trust someone who has good intentions. Good intentions however, don’t always equate to good sound knowledge. As a horse owner, we can only tell if someone has good knowledge, if we already understand the subject, but we only need outside help for the things we don’t understand.

Trusting someone’s good intentions can make it easy to trust someone who perhaps doesn’t get the best result for us, and then we lose trust in ourselves. We lose trust in our own ability to choose the right professional to work with. This is why recommendations from others mean everything in the horse industry.

I think a little more forgiveness would help too. If you’ve made a decision which resulted in a less than great outcome. Forgive yourself, let go of the guilt, and you’ll be able to see the situation far more clearly. Once you can identify where you went wrong, then you’ll be wiser next time, and be able to feel confident in your future decisions.

If you can’t trust other people to help, then owning a horse can become a lonely, rather than a social activity. It can become stressful and worrisome, knowing that you have to do everything yourself, and you have no-one to rely on.

I’d love to know what you think and how you feel about this…

  • How do you select the people to work with, who become part of your horse keeping team?
  • Do you trust other people with your horse, or feel you have to do everything yourself?
  • What areas do you need help with?
  • Do you find horse keeping lonely or do you love the solitude?
  • Does keeping your horse fit and healthy cause you more worry than you’d like?
  • Does having ‘rules’ make you feel more confident in what you’re doing?

Tell me all about it in the comments section 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.

  • I am ‘lucky’ because I have my own land, it only took 67 years to get there, now of course I am a bit long in the tooth for very active riding, therefore I have two teenage horses who live as natural a life as I can possibly manage. They don’t seem to mind if they go out over the moor or stay at home. I am also lucky in having a very experienced barefoot trimmer, who kindly checks my forage and advises me on my mare’s weight etc. I find it easy to overfeed, I love feeding them. I wish I had known in1956 that I didn’t need a blacksmith though. Where were you then?

  • Do you never trim bar ? My barefoot trimmer has told me in the past that the bar that is long will be causing pressure and pain as it touches the ground. It is so confusing – who’s right and who’s wrong !

    • Yes I trim bar. There are certain schools that are obsessed with bar and they trim it out in horrible ways.

      I do question though, as the bar is part of the hoof wall, why would a horse be sore if the bar was on the ground? My personal feeling is that IF that is true, it is the internal structure underneath the bar that is sore, and that should be addressed. It takes more than cutting the bar off to address the issue.

  • I have my horse’s feet exactly how I think they should be. For the most part she walks on her soles, her feet have nice concavity and the frogs are healthy. To maintain this I trim little but often. I give them a rasp every week and each foot only takes less than a minute. That way it is easy for me and my horse.

  • Look, listen and do as the hoof tells you. In the beginning, I put my rasp away from me so I wouldn’t jump the gun. I’d look and get the whole story on every hoof before rasping the pages out of that book. Doing rehab, I have listened very well and with much practise. I can now speak in full sentences with any horse. And do as you are told. The hoof belongs to the horse and he’s the one who has to wear it. A barefoot trim is FOR the horse, not a shoe and so my trim is for the horse.

  • I have been consistently guilty of listening to too many people, and as I’ve aged, I think I am becoming more selective. I look at the evidence. If someone is held up as an expert to me, I would like to see the horses they’ve treated; if they’re well and happy, then I will certainly listen to their advice. Ultimately though, the proof is in the pudding and at the risk of sounding trite, my horses have been the best teachers. (this unfortunately means that there HAVE been times when I’ve learnt by experience – sometimes to the detriment of my horses – what NOT to do, as well as what TO do) Nowdays, I have a fairly consistent baseline to work from, and I am confident in the “do no harm” part.
    I strongly advise that when learning, conservative is the way to go: more frequent trims, with less taken, and more opportunity to observe the effects.
    I also have learnt that one size does NOT fit all. With eight horses, several with “special needs” I have a wonderful classroom in which to further my studies.

  • We don’t like the word rules, as every horse has different needs and different feet. We have guidelines but no rules with our program. Love this article, thank you for it.

  • I tend to let my horse decide who works with her, she’s a very sensitive sausage so if she’s receptive to them and relaxed in their presence then I’m much happier and almost relaxed…. Ha ha!
    Having said that, when I go away there are very few people that I trust to look after her for me, by that’s more to do with me than her. She’d probably be fine with anyone but I like the “carer” to look after as if she were theirs whilst I’m away (scratches and cuddles are very important), otherwise I just worry the whole time….

    • JD’s the same. If someone’s a bit dodgy they just won’t get near her. She’s very funny. A new dentist or bodyworker at the yard and she’ll stand and watch them work with every other horse first. She’ll come up at the end. When they come back a second time, if she liked them, then she pulls rank as dominant mare and demands to be seen first 🙂 Horses are so interesting in their herds…

  • Not read your article yet Debs but I have a ‘golden rule’ when it comes to trimming specifically (I’m another EP folks) and that is…

    ‘Never to do anything unless I believe it will have a positive effect on the horse’.

    I have another one that is much more general and that is …


    (I’m still working on the latter, it’s probably the most difficult…)

    Hope you’re feeling better hun.

    : )

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