Kind of odd for a trimmer/hoofcare provider to write a blog post titled “It’s Not About the Trim,” isn’t it? Maybe. But I wouldn’t be a true hoof geek if I didn’t seek to find the best ways to grow a healthy hoof, now would I? 😉
I am involved in helping people troubleshoot ways to improve their horses’ hoof-based lameness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a vet. I just like trying to help horses feel better in the simplest and most money-saving ways possible. Because of this, I hear a lot about how people are rehabbing their horses’ various lamenesses, and what they have done that is successful (or not!).
I hear a lot of talk about “trim methods” as the saving grace for their horse. I am not saying they are wrong, or that they have not seen improvement. But as the saying goes, “every method will work for some, no method will work for all.” (Or maybe that isn’t a saying, but I sure say it a lot!).
Because of this, my Facebook group has one MAIN rule: “no specific trimming advice.” We aren’t with the owner to see the horse in person, and we can’t see how the horse moves, or lands, or shift its weight as it’s standing, etc. We can’t make blanket statements about a trim just from a picture. And it’s likely a certain trim won’t save the horse, anyway.
I tend to cringe when people adhere so diligently to one trim method, especially if it involves putting down others’ work and knowledge. No one has all the answers, and if they claim they do, they are in for a surprise at some point when something stumps them.
That’s not to say that there aren’t detrimental trims. There are. There are approaches that remove all source of protection a horse has. There are times when a trimmer or farrier unknowingly removes something a horse needs to be comfortable, whether because of how they were taught, a desire to make the hoof “pretty,” or not realizing the horse needed it. This can absolutely make a horse uncomfortable. But I’m looking at the other end of things – you can’t trim your way into a good hoof. It can certainly help, but other variables can help even more.
Here, I want to talk about two very important aspects of hoof health: diet and movement.
Diet plays such a large role in hoof health (and overall health), and often it is overlooked. I am not saying that owners ever SEEK to feed their horses a terrible diet. In fact, most owners do a lot of research and try to find a feed that seems to supply daily needs. If I tell you that your diet needs adjusting, it is not a personal attack, nor is it some sort of judgment on your horsekeeping skills. It is just a statement that something isn’t working for the horse, as seen through the feet.I have been meaning to write a blog post on diet, but debating whether it’s needed because Dr. Kellon has written so much on it, and Pete Ramey did such a great job giving an overview here. I don’t believe I can improve on these. That being said, I’ll give you the quick lowdown:*Avoid excess sugars and starches. Test hay if you can. Make sure all your feed, if at all possible, is less than 4% starch and less than 10% ESC+Starch. Often this means removing grain, and even those “low sugar” balancers. Find a good forage replacement as a “carrier” for minerals. I personally like Standlee timothy grass pellets, or Triple Crown Timothy Balance Cubes.
*Make sure your horse has sufficient protein, and if in question, add amino acids. Many good supplements already include these.
*What is a GOOD supplement, anyway? The BEST supplement is made custom to your hay test. Where this isn’t possible, find one with good levels of copper and zinc, comparable to something like California Trace Plus or Arizona Copper Complete.
*Adjust to your horse’s individual needs. Is your horse a hard keeper, easy keeper, growing, in hard work, etc? All of this must be taken into account and each horse is an individual.
Nutrition might seem like the farthest thing you have to change when you’re trying to improve feet. But actually, it should be the first aspect of horse care that you take into consideration. It can make a world of difference.
A large part of hoof health has to do with movement. And I’m not just talking about heel first landings, although absolutely these are important. I mean getting your horse to move, comfortably, with those heel first landings. Whether this is through conformable surfaces like pea gravel and footing where they are confident to lengthen their stride, or adding this by the use of boots and pads, movement helps to stimulate hoof growth. The pressure and release on the internal structures in the hoof is what encourages hoof to grow. The more correct movement you have, the more growth is encouraged, and this correct movement allows correct wear of the foot as well.
Many often find that adjusting diet and utilizing mineral balancing, as well as ensuring good, balanced heel first movement, makes an incredible difference in the health and soundness of the horse. Not only is it possible that you will see improved, healthier new hoof growth, but you might even see a more willing, forward partner as well. With more correct movement, the horse doesn’t compensate in other areas for pain, and soon their whole body can move better.
When you aren’t happy with your horse’s feet or their soundness, instead of looking to the trim first, dive into nutrition and movement. It can pay off in the end!