Hoof Care

I've gotten a lot of barefoot trimming questions over the years, and I've been meaning to put up a megapost about trimming.  Here goes!  I'll update this page as I think of more stuff to say.

It seems like a lot of people struggle with finding the courage to pick up the rasp for the first time.  And I can see how if you've only worked with top-notch highly recommended farriers, or endurance-level booting specialists, you'd be pretty intimidated.  But when I first got into horses in 2007, I looked at what my farrier was doing, looked at some stuff online, and decided I could do at least as well as him.  (This is a theme of my entire horse-owning career:  look at something quite complicated, think briefly about it, decide I can do it too, and go do it.  I mean, what the hell was I thinking getting into endurance?  So much hubris.)

Anyway, so I paid $30, watched the farrier work, thought "I can do that!" and set out to teach myself to trim.  Instead of paying attention in Contracts or Torts, I read every barefoot trimming site I could find. In Internet time, this was about seven thousand years ago, so most of those sites are gone or totally changed, but I've got a few links and I'll try to keep this page up to date.

Before we really start, I've got two disclaimers:

  • Hoof care is, of course, a wildly polarizing topic.  Shoeing fanatics think barefooters are killing their horses, and vice versa.  Within the barefoot community, devotees of one trim style think the practitioners of another style are clueless butchers.  Honestly, I am an agnostic - does your horse go well in shoes?  Great, happy for you.  Does your trim style work for you? Awesome. Is your horse stumbling or abscessing or landing toe-first? Maybe you should consider a change.  Here are some resources which may or may not help you and your horse!
  • Are you easily grossed out?  Gird your loins.  Almost all barefoot sites have tons of pictures of cadaver hooves.  I am totally squicked out by pictures of laminae, but I've learned a lot by staring at them anyway.

Iron Free Hoof is one of the few sites that I remember reading back then that's still around today.  If you read the whole site, you'll have a pretty good basic understanding of hoof anatomy and balance.

Barefoot for Soundness isn't being updated anymore, but it's another excellent starter resource.  All the sidebar articles are good (and there aren't a lot of gross lamina pictures.)

The Horse's Hoof is a magazine, but they've got a lot of their articles collected here.

I think I learned the mechanics of using a rasp from Click and Trim - it was still up a few months ago, but it's gone now, sadly.  It was a wonderful little website, written by a clicker trainer, but it wasn't "clicker required" - lots of good pictures of exactly how to hold and use a rasp, both "from the top" and "from the bottom."  Here's the absolute basics:
  • Get a good rasp.  I don't know how much they cost in other countries, but in the US, you need to spend at least $25.  I like Save-edge or Black Diamond.  You can get a 12" or 14" "pony size" one to start, if it makes you more comfortable. 
  • Get the handle.  It screws on to the rasp and keeps you from poking yourself or your horse.  You only need one, ever - just unscrew it and move it to the new rasp.  While you're at it, get the leather sheath, too.
  • Get gloves.  Rubber-dipped mesh gardening gloves give you the best combo of protection and agility.  You have not truly known pain til you have rasped a knuckle off because you were too lazy to walk back in the barn to get your gloves (or, because you forgot to buy a new pair and rasped your knuckle through the hole in your old pair.)  Get gloves.
That's all you absolutely must have.  A hoof stand is quite nice - you can drop a benjamin or two on a professional one, like a HoofJack, or you can beg your friend's brother to weld you something out of a plow disk and an iron pipe.  If you find you enjoy trimming, I urge you to get a hoof stand sooner rather than later, but you don't have to spend the money right away.

I have hoof knives, too.  Quite a few hoof knives - nice ones and shitty ones, in various stages of sharpness.  I'm not very good at using them or getting the hook tip sharp again (yes I have a steel).  I wish you better luck with knives than I've had.  You don't absolutely have to have a knife.  

A lot of people go with power tools after they gain some experience.  If you've got the right kind of setup, an angle grinder works well.  If you've got a compressor and the other people at your barn won't freak out, the air powered kind are more lightweight than the battery powered kind.  Dremels work, too.  I would strongly recommend that you learn to trim with a rasp, first, because it's really quite hard to take off too much with a rasp, and it's much easier to go overboard with power tools.

Take pictures.  Just use your camera phone and snap three shots of each hoof before you trim it, then after you trim. You want a side picture (with the horse standing pretty square)...
A sole shot...
And a heel shot.
Keep your hoof pics in their own folder and flip through them every so often. You'll be surprised at how much you learn from a photo - I usually trim, think I've done a fantastic job, take pics, and leave. When I get home and look at the pictures, horrible mistakes and imbalances leap out at me.

Dixie's got really thick soles and a ton of wall, so my trimming strategy with her wouldn't work on a horse like Lilly.  But what I do with Dixie is trim her toes as far back as I dare, trim her heels all the way down to the frog, and roll off any separation at the quarters.  If her frogs look funky, I soak bits of cotton ball in pure tea tree oil and jam the cotton way up in the sides of her frogs - it's anti-microbial, and it's a physical barrier to help keep the muck out for a couple days.

One of the reasons I've been so hesitant to write anything about trimming is because I never have beautiful "after" photos.  Dixie's feet still look like a hot mess to me - I picked those three shots strictly because they're fairly recent and her hooves are clean, not because this is how you want your horse's feet to look.

But they look better than they used to.  This is the oldest picture I have, about 6 weeks after I got Dixie, and they were a Lindsey Lohan level of fucked up.  Her frogs were tattered, blackened little things, half the size they are today, lurking a quarter inch off the ground.  All I did for six months was trim as much off her toes as I could - she was extremely uncooperative - and she grew a decent hoof on her own.
For every maxim I could give you, I can think of a situation where that's the wrong thing to do, because this is a complicated subject.  But a good thing to remember is that you're not sculpting something pretty - you're doing what you need to do to get the horse moving correctly.  Once the horse is moving correctly, she'll grow a better hoof all on her own.  If the toes are too long or the heels are too high, the horse can't move well.

One more thing - now that you've saved all this money by learning to do your own trims, invest some of it in boots.  Buy some used ones.  If they don't work, try to figure out why and buy a different model or brand.  They're like people shoes - the right boot may change over time, and it's not a failure to switch from one manufacturer to another, or to change sizes as the hoof changes shape.


  1. I love this. I love your disclaimer bullets. And my trimming style is totally similar. Im going to refer people to this page in the future. Thatnk you!!!

  2. Thanks so much for putting up this page! Just out of curiosity, how often do you trim? Or maybe a better question is, what variables must be in alignment for you to decide you need to do a trim? I've been wrestling a little with this question because in the winter, my horse's feet tend to grow much more slowly and I'm lazy, so I am going longer between trims and I'm wondering if that is typical.

    1. I trim every week to ten days for a couple reasons. One, it's *me* doing the trimming, and it's far easier to rasp off a week's growth than a month's - Dixie's hooves, like Nimo's, are so thick they're really hard to nipper. And two, because I'm using Gloves - they won't fit right after a couple weeks of growth. If I were using buckle-style Easyboots or Renegades, they'd fit better throughout a longer trim cycle.

      Anyway, once a week, takes maybe 20 minutes when I stay on top of it like that.

      Glad yall like it :)

    2. Ahh, that answers my question -- I couldn't figure out why everyone's trimming posts never seemed to mention actual trimming!

      Thanks much for this info; I am a long, long way from doing my own hoofcare, but education is A Good Thing.

  3. Not really a trimming question, more so hoof care... those cotton balls, do you have to go and pick them out after a few days or do they fall out?

    Oh, and thanks for writing this :)

    1. They'll fall out eventually. I pick hooves every three days at the absolute most and I'll find a three-day-old cotton ball sometimes, but usually they fall out in two.

      No prob :)

  4. Just stumbled on your blog today...nice job with the feet and this post.


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