Written By Rebecca J. Scott
We are often asked by new clients or potential clients why we recommend that they have their horse’s hooves trimmed every four weeks. Traditionally farriers have recommended every six to eight weeks.
And many horses, if you look casually at their feet at the four week mark – well, they look kinda OK. But its worth picking the hooves up and noting the changes. By week four if you look closely, most horses will have 4 to 6mm of hoof wall protruding below their sole. By week five most hooves will start chipping and/or cracking as the lamella (the connective tissue between the hoof wall and the pedal bone inside the hoof) gets put under mechanical stress. And by the time the cracks appear, the hoof has undergone significant damage to the lamella. This damage cannot be repaired. It needs to grow out and a nice tight new laminar connection needs to be established at the coronet band and grow down, before the horse gets a nice healthy hoof back again.
The old six to eight week interval was based on what it was believed the horse (and owner) could get away with. Horses in the wild never get trimmed. But they are able to move 30kms a day or more. As a result, their feet get worn. Most of our domestic horses stand around in soft paddocks and their feet just grow longer by the week, without getting abraded much at all.
What a trimmer endeavours to do is to make up for the wear that the horse cannot provide itself. If the walls are allowed to grow longer than about five mm below the sole, then (depending a bit on the footing) the horse starts to walk on its hoof walls and bear all its weight these walls. Given that the hoof walls are actually the horse’s nail, this means that the horse is walking on its toe nail!
No animal has evolved to walk on its toe nails. Rather the load of the weight of the horse should be more equitably distributed across more tissues in the foot – including to some degree the hoof wall, but also the frog (very important) and the sole. We know this from the study of good brumby hooves.
Above – Typical domestic hoof for this time of year. Seedy toe and stretched laminae. Note the long hoof capsule (as measured from coronet band to toe). Hoof has flaring and laminar lines signalling past inflammation of the hoof, probably triggered by flushes of the spring grass.
Below – Brumby hooves – note short distance between coronet and toe. Also absence of flaring.
If the entire weight of the horse is effectively suspended on the hoof wall, it places a lot of stress on the connective lamella which sit between the hoof wall and the pedal bone. The lamella gets ‘stretched’ from the pressure. Any horse with a dish or flare in its hoof wall has stretched lamella. And this starts a cascade of hoof problems. The destroyed lamella connection allows seedy toe microbes to get a foothold, makes the horse prone to abcessing from bacterial infection and also starts the horse on the road to laminitis which can ultimately lead to founder.
And just a couple of weeks of laminar stress can seriously impact on the health of the hoof. It takes months for nice new laminar connections to grow in, and for the hoof to grow out the old damaged lamella.
While its true that hooves do grow at different rates at different times of the year, and it is more possible to get away with a slightly longer trim cycle (mid summer and mid winter), we prefer to keep the wear as regular as we can. Which is why we stick to the four weekly cycles, year round.
For further reading about the benefits of shorter trim cycles, here is a link to Marjorie Smith’s take on trim intervals…
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