The Natural Trim

A Natural Trim is a method of hoof trimming that attempts to emulate the shape of healthy hooves worn by ferrel horses in nature who travel 20-30 km per day over hard, rocky terrain. The shape of these hooves is the result of constant use and internal stregnth, and is an excellent model for application on the domestic horse.

I use the wild horse model when trimming to develop sound hooves with well-connected walls, thick soles and robust frogs. However, there is no "one size fits all" trimming method - each horse is different. Careful consideration is required to develop a bare hoof maintenance/rehabilitation program that works best for a particular horse. Though I utilize natural trimming methodology, it is often necessary to augment a trim with techniques designed to correct whatever unique problems are present in the hoof before me.

It is my assumption that the live, calloused sole is the best indicator to the position of the hoof's internal structures and should be used as a guide to trim and balance the hoof. Being able to visualize the internal structures is important. After all, a hoof is not a block of wood to be shaped to some predefined ideal, but a complex, blood pumping, shock dampening, traction device at the end of a boney column for which all aspects must be considered in order to create true balance. Judging the health of the hoof and reading the sole, I trim in accordance to natural parameters or in a manner that best addresses a pathological condition (ie. laminitis/founder, caudal foot pain [Navicular], thrush, abscesses...).

You have likely come to this site because you're interested in finding a healthier, more natural solution for your horse or are dealing with hoof problems that have not responded favorably to traditional shoeing methods.

Hoof problems are very common in domestic horses and are often a direct result of the very iron shoes that some claim to be a cure. Below is an illustration depicting some of the issues regularly found in the region where I work and how each affects the internal structures of the hoof (coffin bone represented in red). Do any of these hoof shapes look familiar to you?

The first drawing depicts a healthy hoof form with the coffin bone level (or near level) with the ground and supported by a thick, concaved sole. This hoof would likely land heel-first on a wide, firm frog dissipating energy and assisting in pumping blood through the leg and back to the heart. Low heels and an efficient break over point of the toe allow for a smooth, extended gate. This is our goal!

The next drawing depicts a foundered hoof. Founder is the result of weakened laminae (laminae binds the hoof wall to the coffin bone) aggravated by mechanical stress. This problem is found to some degree in most of our horses and is often the result of excess sugars (and fructan) found in hay, grass and commercial feeds compounded by shoeing or incorrect trimming and insufficient exercise. Once the weakened laminae begins to rip apart (often as a result of a toe-first landing - a symptom of heel sensitivity), it cannot be repaired and the hoof wall is forced away from the bone as it grows outward creating a long toe (eventually pulling the heels forward along with it). The longer the toe grows, the more the sole drops to the ground wearing thinner until the coffin bone itself risks protruding through the sole. This situation is often exacerbated by repeated thinning of the sole in preparation for a shoe. Founder is a serious matter and should lead owners to consider sweeping changes in the horse's diet, exercise and living conditions combined with a trimming regiment conducive to growing out a well-connected hoof.

The third hoof could be a foundered hoof that has been drastically rasped from the top to remove the flared toe, a club foot (a situation where one hoof compensates for a physiological disorder elsewhere in the body by growing drastically steeper than the other), or a neglected hoof where the heel has been allowed to grow too long forcing the horse's weight onto the toe wearing the sole thin. In this case, the hoof wall is connected to the coffin bone, but the sole has worn dangerously thin at the toe. The hoof wall/pastern axis is incorrect causing undue stress to the joints. Walking around on tiptoes takes the frog out of function and causes unnatural tendon stress to the navicular area possibly resulting in permanent remodeling of the coffin and navicular bones.

The last drawing depicts a long toe/low heel configuration. This form can cause excess tendon stress, heel soreness, cracks, bowed tendons, contracted heels, navicular syndrome and under-run heels. This is often the result of prolonged, incorrect shoeing that causes the hoof capsule to be pulled forward setting the coffin bone at a reverse angle.

For each of the pathological conditions described here, I have not once witnessed a shoeing method that was able to improve the situation with the speed and level of success as obtained by a competent barefoot management program.

Next: The Benefits of Barefoot Horse Keeping