HORSEPLAY: Be cautious if you choose to trim hooves

“OH GEEZE! WHY are my leg muscles and hands so sore?” That’s what I asked myself the other night as I rose from my recliner.

Oh yeah, I remember why.

I’d been playing the part of a farrier on my horses.

You see, after my previous farrier retired I got a new one I really liked. This past month, he’s been going through some serious family issues so he’s been unavailable to work.

So why was I playing my own smithy? Because both Lacey and Sunny where a month overdue for a hoof trim.

A couple of shoes had already fallen off somewhere in the pasture — one ripping off part of Lacey’s hoof wall, and I didn’t want that to happen again.

Usually I schedule the farrier for every eight weeks, going to seven weeks in the summer because of more use. Being four weeks past the last trim meant their toes had gotten too long and were growing over the remaining shoes.

Mind you, a farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care, including the trimming and balancing of horses’ hooves and the placing of shoes on their hooves if necessary.

Note the word “specialist.”

I am by no means a specialist or an expert. And I’m not going to attempt to teach you how to trim or shoe a horse.

I would urge you to learn all you can about it just to be better informed when talking to your farrier and knowing what to look for in a balanced hoof.

Simply put, an unbalanced horse hoof contributes to lameness, either right away or down the road.

Actually, because I’m not a trained farrier — not an expert — trimming my own horse’s hooves could end up disastrous.

In fact, the one and only time I previously tried to trim my own pony’s front hooves I did a terrible job.

I later found out one reason I had such difficulty was because I was trying to nip off his toe line with horse shoe pullers.

They look quite similar to hoof nippers, but the ends are designed a bit different; one’s got sharp, tapered tips for pinching off the hoof and the other’s more blunt for pulling shoes off.

I have always had a keen interest in learning how to trim for a balanced hoof.

I’ve studied videos, including the one put out by Mission Farrier School, watched at a couple of clinics and asked my farriers lots of questions throughout the years.

Still, other than putting on a shoe that had fallen off, I had no real hands-on experience.

This time, I decided to tackle the job with the help of hoof mapping. Google the subject and you’ll find it’s a great aid in learning how, and where, to trim or rasp.

I recommend learning to map your own horse’s hooves before and after a trim simply for your own knowledge.

All you need is a guide, a ruler and a black marker.

A site that gives good basic insight is from hoof boot manufacture EasyCare at tinyurl.com/PDN-Hoof-Care.

Nips

I gathered my tools: a long-neglected hoof stand, hoof nippers, hoof rasp, hoof pick with brush and a hoof knife and went to work.

Removing the remaining shoes proved to be the most arduous and time-consuming task for me.

I think, perhaps, because the hoof wall had grown over the tips of the nails, making them tightly embedded.

Picture me — this overweight, top-heavy woman — standing and bending over the hoof for long periods of time. Quite a funny site.

I found it exhausting. In fact, I did have to sit and rest a bit.

I got the bright idea of pulling up a foot stool to use as a seat to try to rasp the heads of the nails off while their hooves rested on the hoof stand.

I can’t say I recommend sitting down while underneath a horse. After all, it is an accident waiting to happen, but my horses are old hands at getting their hooves worked on and stood quietly for me the whole time.

It did cross my mind to pull out my Dremel with a cutting blade to sheer those metal tips off, but I thought the noise might spook them.

In hindsight, I realize they would have stood quietly because they do so when using electric trimmers for things like trimming a path for the headstalls to rest in.

I was sweating bullets when it came to pulling the shoes off because it was hard work and took a lot of pulling and maneuvering to get those shoes off. It did get easier toward the end, though, as I figured out more ways to pull those nails out.

Guide

With the shoes off, I mapped out a hoof, grabbed my nippers and proceeded to nip a bit off the toe. Ack! The hoof was rock hard.

I found my hands lacked the strength to squeeze the tool hard enough to cut through.

Finally I gave up and just took to rasping and using my hoof knife. Surely, there must be an easier way.

I thought about using my grinder.

“Wouldn’t that make easy work of it,” I thought. But I thought the noise alone would scare them away.

I took a break, went inside and Googled it. Sure enough, YouTube showed some videos of a couple of farriers using a grinder. One was even a woman — and all the horses stood quietly while she worked.

Before I go further on this I should say I have years of experience using a grinder. Many moons ago I was a professional and licensed wallpaper hanger.

Then I partnered up with a guy who had years of experience in the painting business.

He taught me how to use a grinder with a fiberglass sanding disk (found at the auto supply store) to either feather the edge of peeling paint before priming it or to completely remove paint from siding without damaging the wood.

I was living in Connecticut at the time and the area was chock-full of aging two- and three-story wood houses with peeling paint. I spent a few summers with him stripping the paint off entire homes in order to repaint.

Plus I’ve welded and grinded some metalwork.

Thus I was confident I could use the grinder to shape a hoof.

I would caution those who have only had occasional use of a grinder to practice feathering paint without leaving any groove marks before even thinking of using one near a horse. And only if your horse stands well for a trim.

In the videos flap disks, not sandpaper — and definitely not a cutting wheel — were used to shape the hoof. So I got mine ready, tied my horse up, put my safety goggles on and turned it on.

It was noisier than I thought. But Lacey, and later Sunny, both stood as still as they did with nippers.

Amazing! So I set to work.

They actually seemed to enjoy it.

Naturally I was careful to stay away from the hairline. And on the hind hooves I tied their tails up out of the way so they wouldn’t get caught up in the grinder’s spinning wheel.

The job went well and it was definitely easier on my hands. I was cautious not to grind too much off.

I stuck to using a hoof knife on their frogs because I feared it was too sensitive an area for the grinder.

I figured it was better to leave too much hoof, rather than have them uncomfortable, or in pain, because they had too little hoof (again, I’m still in the learning stage).

It’s been a few days now, and I’m happy to say there’s been no sign of either one limping.

I’ve been able to re-evaluate my work, taking just a rasp to tweak them a bit.

I’m undecided at this point if I’m going to leave them barefoot for now and use hoof boots when riding, or go back to the convenience of having them wear metal shoes.

It that’s the case I will definitely be hiring a professional horseshoer. That’s one nail I don’t want to hit on the head!

________

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 kbg@olympus.net at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

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