For 55 million years horses – or their ancestors – have been running across this planet barefoot. In the process of wandering around foraging on the steppes or running from predators across the plains, they also abraded their hooves. It was a neat system. The lifestyle of the wild horse meant that generally the hoof growth equated to the wear. It was a natural balance. No trimmers. No farriers. Just a beautifully evolved system of natural hoof care.
Then along come homo sapiens who domesticated the horse, locked them in paddocks (or stables or yards) and prevented them moving sufficiently to wear their own hooves.
In confinement, the feet grew long and soft. They needed to be trimmed. Metal shoes were then applied to counter the sensitivities of soft-footed domestic horses.
And sure. A horse wearing a metal shoe can go pretty much anywhere. The shoes lift the sole clear of any challenging footing. But they also reduce the blood flow in the hoof. And they effectively sling the entire weight of the horse on its hoof wall which – technically – is its toe nail. No animal in the world has evolved to walk on its toe nails.
Metal shoes on horses are really for people. So that people can ride or drive horses over any kind of terrain. They are not actually good for horses.
Anybody with any empathy can understand that running around with metal attached to a horse’s hoof is a jarring experience. Humans wear rubber on the soles of their shoes to soften the impact of locomotion. Even then, jogging in specially designed running shoes, on bitumen, is not recommended – for people. It is recognized as being bad for human joints. So imagine how it must be for a horse in metal shoes on a hard surface.
Nowdays more and more people are realising that metal shoes are not good for horses. And this realization has seen the development of the barefoot trimming movement. Underpinning the barefoot approach – for many of us – is the idea that we need to look at the good wild horse hoof as a model.
But the reality is we are still refining the best way to trim a horse’s hoof. To make and keep the animal sound. And we are still learning what works in different footings and environments. Because the hooves of an Australian desert brumby are markedly different from the hooves of the wild horses in the lush regions of New Zealand’s Kaimanawa Ranges, or the wet environment of the French Carmargue. Or a mustang out in the Mojave desert.
It’s a continual conversation between Barefoot trimmers and the academics and clinicians who are studying this. How does the hoof work to dissipate concussion? Should we trim the bars and if so how much? How do we get a domestic horse to develop a digital cushion to match those found in the wild horses? How do we develop a healthy depth of sole? How do we improve capilliarisation in the lateral cartileges? What triggers the haemodynamic shock absorption system?
There are so many unknowns. So much we need to know to better inform our Barefoot trimming practices. Which is why it is essential that the conversation remains open and ongoing.
The very idea that any single person has developed ‘THE’ best trim is – in my view – arrogant. It ignores the history of trimming as a method and the fact that horses have self trimmed for millions of years. It is also premature, given the mysteries that remain unsolved in relation to the physiology and functional anatomy of the equine digit.
It is not possible to copyright a Barefoot trimming method. Copyright law does not protect methods. Certain “trim gurus” around the globe have prescribed their parameters for a Bare hoof trim, and then claimed they are the owner of the copyright in the method – usually as an attempt to monetize their idea. Fortunately, it is not possible to copyright a trimming method, so we are all free to develop these methods and to evolve and develop our own styles.
We need to remain open to the emerging science. We need to look at what other Barefoot trimmers from other backgrounds, and other farriers are doing. We need to look at how the horses they are trimming move. We need to observe what works for the horse, and what doesn’t, and we need to tailor our trims accordingly.