This blog post was written by Minna Sarkkinen of MKS Equine – Flex Hoof Boots Autralia. Minna is a professional barefoot trimmer with over 10 years’ experience under her belt, and our Flex Boot distributor in Australia and New Zealand. Flex Boots can be purchased in Australia and New Zealand from https://www.flexhoofbootsaustralia.com/
We are traditionally used to trimming horses every 6-8 weeks. This has been, and largely still is, considered an adequate and pro-active way of caring for hooves. However, when we think about the horse as an animal whose hooves are designed to wear each and every day, and always be perfect to run on, we might see that 6-8 weeks of growth mightn’t be such a great idea!
Hooves should never “look like they need a trim”. By then, damage has been occurring often for weeks. The damage is inside the hoof capsule, so unless you’re educated as to what exactly happens on the inside, it may be brushed off as “he’ll be fine with a bit of a trim”.
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Since hoof walls grow an average of 10mm per month,
there will be 15mm (1/2") of new growth 6 weeks after a trim,
and 20mm (3/4") after 8 weeks.
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That’s a lot for an animal who has to walk on their toenails.
With six weeks of growth, the horse's hoof functions the same way as if it was shod:
They are peripherally loaded, which we know causes stress to the laminae, which in turn keeps the soles thin and does nothing to help suspend P3 high up in the hoof capsule.
The excess length at the toe causes strain to the tendons of the legs. The excess height at the toe works against maintaining correct bony column alignment.
Many heels grow too far forward and/or too high, suspending the frog away from the ground and thus reducing the hoof's capability to expand and contract, and to absorb shock via the soft tissues in the back of the foot on landing.
To trim or not to trim - that is the question
With all this happening, we are left with a dilemma at trim time – we now have so much growth that we can’t always remove it all in one go – otherwise the horse may be sore post trim and the client will get cranky.
So the trimmer leaves the hooves “partway” trimmed, which means we are not making headway to heal the problems caused by the long trim cycle. Circulation diminishes as the walls grow higher and then returns when the horse is trimmed. This puts the horse in a constant state of yo-yo. But since the horse isn't lame with his overgrown feet, the owner thinks everything is fine and is more upset if there is post trim soreness.
Real problem with long trim cycles
Long trim cycles mean we are always chasing the damage instead of getting on top of it and maintaining a healthy state. Add to this the constant state of low grade laminitis that most (yes, MOST) horses managed in traditional ways live with, and we have a recipe for hoof problems.
And if this didn't sound bad enough, consider that in spring time the hooves can grow twice as fast…. You get the big picture, right? In short, 6-8 week trimming cycles are not good for the horse.
So what's the solution?
My clients are on a four week trim cycle (apart from a break I take in June and at Christmas time), and there are certain horses and times of year when this is absolutely not adequate to keep the feet in shape.
Sometimes people ask if we could trim four weekly in the spring and summer, and six weekly in the winter since feet grow slower then. To this, I want to say that we should trim four weekly in the winter, and two weekly in spring! It’s not possible as a practitioner though, so I don’t torture people with the concept.
In the early days of my trimming career, it was a hard sell to get clients to agree to 4-weekly trims, since no one else did it. Now, people come exactly because of it. They can see the feet always looking good (well not always in my eyes of course, but a lot better than what you see with horses who are trimmed less regularly) and the horses are sound with minimal hoof related problems, which means less vet bills and more riding time. It's worth pointing out here though, that the diet of course is as important as the trim. If the diet and living environment don't support healthy hooves, no amount of trimming will get us over the line.
I learned right at the start of my trimming journey that the gold standard of hoof care is weekly trims.
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Trimming weekly turned my previously shod horses around,
and gave them all well functioning feet.
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In a world where horse owners are used to thinking that 6-8 week trim cycles are the ideal (simply because "that's how its always been done"), it took a while for the importance of more frequent trims to sink in, and four weeks between trims became the compromise between horse welfare and owner preconceptions. Now that we are really spreading the message of weekly trims, and the world again needs time to adjust and digest this new information, but we will get there.
Put it this way: if we remove 1-3mm (1/16"-1/8") every week, isn’t it logical that this is best for the horse? After all, in wild the horses' feet wear out a little bit every day as they roam around. So why we still think that a trim every 6-8 weeks is good for the horse; where is the evidence to support this? If I put any of my horses on a 6-8 week trim cycle, their feet and joints would go to pieces. When I put client horses on a seven week trim cycle, they have problems immediately.
Robert Bowker likens the growth of the hoof to a conveyor belt; the walls grow forward (and down), the heels grow forward (and down) and the sole grows forward. He says if we don't stay ahead of the conveyor belt with our trimming, the hoof runs away from us and we are always chasing the damage. This is exactly what I've found too. Staying ahead means trimming more often.
For anyone advocating trims six weeks apart, ask yourself, what good happens to the hoof between say four weeks and six weeks into a trim cycle? The answer of course is NOTHING. No trim can last six weeks. Many trims, due to bad technique, don’t even last for one day.
So, if a 4-weekly trim is better than a 6-weekly trim, wouldn't a weekly trim be an even BIGGER improvement? Of course it would. It’s like buying your dream sports car and putting the cheaper, lower quality fuel in it, compared to spending the money on the premium stuff. You put the good fuel in, because by doing so you are preventing problems (which is heaps cheaper and easier than fixing problems once they happen), and you want to be driving that car for many years to come.
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We have to start really thinking about preventing problems -
and weekly trims are the way to go about it.
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Now, it’s not practicable to make a business from trimming weekly for obvious reasons. I do trim some client horses weekly, but only because they are very ill and don’t stay like that forever.
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The answer then, is for owners to take charge of their horse’s care and management, and learn to trim themselves.
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This can be in between professional visits, or going completely solo. There is far too much fear mongering out there about trimming; learning about your own horse's feet is not rocket science. No one cares about your horse's feet as much as you do. Being involved in trimming your own horse's feet can be a lot of fun, and it's rewarding watching them improve, knowing that YOU made it happen.
With the right instruction and ongoing support, this is completely achievable! I regularly lose clients who begin to trim their own horse and they don’t need me anymore. It might sound daft but it’s a great thing! And, needless to say, those feet look better than when I trimmed them, due to a small weekly touch-up trim, rather than less frequent, more evasive trimming which is always the case if hooves are not trimmed weekly.
Even if you don't do it perfectly and the trims need some tweaks at the start, it is STILL better than a quick “remove a bit of wall” job every 6-8 weeks. Because let’s face it, if all horses broke as soon as their feet weren’t perfect, they would be extinct and we certainly wouldn’t have any horses to ride.
Does a weekly touch-up really make a difference?
Have a look at the below photos. Both these hooves went 7 weeks between professional trims. The first one has an owner who rasps weekly in-between professional visits. The hoof isn't perfect, but compare it to the other horse who didn’t get any trimming for 7 weeks - there's a massive positive difference when the owner has been doing maintenance trimming during the seven weeks! With proactive clients like this, I discuss what needs to be done more/less/differently with their maintenance trims, and over time their trims improve a great deal.
Below are pre-trim photos of a founder pony who went 7 weeks between trims.
And below, the same pony, pre-trim photos four weeks after the last trim. It's obvious that even four weeks is too long for this pony, and since the diet is causing constant inflammation, there's only so much the foot can improve.
And here we can see how this hoof is running forward after a seven week trim cycle. This is a previously foundered horse who does not have a suitable diet, even after a trim it's obvious that the hoof isn't where it's meant to be. The solution is a shorter trim cycle and an appropriate (grass free) diet.
And finally, a horse on a 1-3 week trim cycle who has never been shod. His first five years were spent in a "normal home" - with grass grazing and infrequent trimming. And the last three in a more horse-friendly environment.
Lastly, a sole view showing the difference between a 6 week and a 4 week trim cycle. The horse would remain much better balanced front to back on a one week trim cycle. This is a great illustration of the forward tendency of hoof growth and how "keeping ahead of the conveyor belt" can't be achieved unless we shorten the trim cycles. Only so much can come off at once or the horse will be sore, and the client will think the trims are too close together!