JUST AS IT’S often said that knowledge is power, learning a new skill can be just so empowering.
Hiring a farrier to trim and shoe my horses is the norm for me.
At the same time, I’ve always had a desire to learn how to do it myself.
Not a burning desire, mind you, because it’s backbreaking work to constantly bend over while holding a heavy horse hoof in the air to nip, trim and rasp — more if you’re adding a shoe.
I’ve read books, watched several videos and even attended a trimming seminar before, but after a few tries that were disastrous, I concluded I just didn’t have the knack for it.
But after attending this month’s Freedom Farms Feet First — Hoof Care Clinic, I decided it was just my inept use of nippers to trim the hoof wall that gave me so much trouble and caused me to do more damage than good to the hoof.
Not anymore since attending a hoof care class taught by Freedom Farm owners Jerry Schmidt and Mary Gallagher.
Through it, I’ve discovered a few simple things I can do to help the hooves stay healthy and balanced between farrier visits, and better yet, none involves the use of nippers.
As Gallagher stated in her 10-page handout, the “classes are a great chance to deepen your knowledge of hoof health and to improve your technique, from your basic hoof cleaning to balancing the foot for your horse’s comfort and good health. We provide lots of hands-on time and plenty of coaching.”
Page 1 is a list of questions with space to write your answer down:
How is the horse used: pleasure, trail, competition or retired?
Lifestyle: Is your horse in a stall or paddock (with rubber mats or without), in a pasture with or without a herd?
Most important is a page to record how much movement your horse has per day, per week, either with you exercising him, through turnout or herd activity.
Also pertinent to a horse’s healthy hoof is to know more about the vaccinations and frequency of dosing.
Both experts stress keeping the amount of vaccines to a bare minimum and to avoid giving multiple vaccinations within one shot.
“Just one type of vaccine causes stress within the body,” Schmidt said.
“We used to give the multiple vaccine injection, and the next day, the horses’ energy would be down, some would even stagger, so you know it was causing inflammation and stress to their bodies.”
Tools of the trimming trade include a hoof pick, stiff-bristled or wire brush, right- and left-handed hoof knives and a good farrier rasp — and we were cautioned not to buy the cheap ones.
A protractor with a level is helpful, too.
Included with the class was an example logbook to record the dates you’ve trimmed the hooves (preferably weekly), things you noted during that time and changes in the hoof throughout a four-month period.
Daily maintenance hoof care includes a thorough cleaning by picking and brushing the hoof sole, making sure to clean along the frog’s collateral groove and cleft; removing all small rocks trapped within the white line; removing rocks and debris trapped under the bar ridge; checking the apex of the frog for rocks and thrush (bacteria, fungi and/or yeasts that destroy hoof tissues); checking the central sulcus of the frog for rocks and thrush; and checking the central sulcus between heel bulbs for cracks and thrush.
And if you, like me, don’t know what a sulcus is or some of the other terms, simply Google “equine hoof diagram” or email a request to [email protected]
On a weekly basis, follow up a good cleaning with a good maintenance trim by opening the point of the frog to expose air with the hoof knife, taking back any laid-over bar with the hoof knife; bevel the outside edge of the hoof wall in with a rasp; check the heel and toe height of each hoof; measure the length and width of each hoof; compare this balance with previous ones in your logbook; and adjust heel height or toe height accordingly with a rasp.
Provided, too, was a diagram on hoof balance and optimal foot angles, heel and toe heights after the trim is completed (understanding there’s a slight variance between different sizes and breeds: the large pancake size hoof of a draft horse versus the tightly compacted hoof of the mine horse).
An important part of hoof balance I’d never heard before was that the hairline angle at the top of the hoof should be 30 degrees after a properly balanced trim.
Know that trying to get each hoof the exact same angles and degrees will likely contribute to lameness.
Remember, changing the hoof over to correct angles and balances should be done gradually over time. Never sacrifice soundness for angles.
Schmidt said learning how to properly trim a hoof has been “sort of an evolution for us.”
Years ago, they followed one expert’s theory, and throughout the years, they’ve come to learn that method wasn’t good for a healthy barefoot trim after all.
And really, isn’t that true for all of us?
We attend a hoof clinic or read a book of someone well-respected in the field and follow those instructions as to how much heel or toe to take off and why.
A few years later, we attend another barefoot clinic from another well-known person and change to that method.
So let me just say this: Schmidt’s and Gallagher’s horses are all thriving on their current natural hoof trim method, which I personally think is based on good common sense.
And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, in that a visit to their pastures will show herds of healthy, well-balanced hooves.
These are just the basics; there is so much more to learn.
The downfall of doing it incorrectly — or not trimming the hooves at all — will result in lameness and other health issues, and that’s a horse owner’s sin in itself.
So if you don’t know what you’re doing, then hire a farrier and keep on learning.
And keep an eye out for news about more hoof clinics at the website freedom-farm.net.
Or call Gallagher at 360-457-4897.
In my previous column, I mentioned items I use to help my horses and myself with traction on ice and snow, and how to prevent snowballs from accumulating in the hoof.
Since then, I’ve received a couple of tips from friends with horses: Zorina Barker mentioned trying out pine tar to keep snowballs from forming (I had suggested cooking oil), while Pam Cameron said she spreads non-clumping clay-based kitty litter — called My Special Kitty — on her concrete and other icy areas, as it doesn’t harm her concrete and she’s found even the commercial ice melts that state “safe for concrete” can still cause pits in her concrete.
• Baker Stables Winter Schooling Shows — Began Nov. 19. Continues with a 10 a.m. start Feb. 25, March 25 and April 22 at 164 Four Winds Road in Port Angeles.
Contact Dana or Tom King at 360-457-6039 0r 360-460-7832.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.