Thursday, August 6, 2009

Novice Farrier Work, Part I

I get asked about my do-it-yourself farrier work quite often, so I thought since all the horses are due for a trim, I'd do a series on hoof trimming.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional farrier. I did not go to school for this and I do not make a living as a farrier. What I do is by no means the only way to trim a hoof. This series is not meant to be the Bible of do-it-yourself trimming, but rather a glimpse into my techinique and views to hopefully answer some questions and inspire you to learn more about your horses' feet. I firmly believe even if you never intend to pick up a rasp, as a horse owner, you still need to learn about basic hoof structure. Otherwise, how can you tell if something doesn't look right?

OK, let's talk supplies.

From left to right: hoof pick, hoof knife, rasp, nippers, and fly spray.

Hopefully your rasp and nippers look better than mine. It is essential to have a sharp rasp. Otherwise you will be doing a lot of work and getting nowhere. Although my rasp is rusty, this one is the sharpest one I have. Don't be afraid to buy new rasps often. My nippers have also seen better days, but I lost my good pair in Texas. I have no idea where these came from--I actually found them on my dad's farm all rusted up and dull, so I sharpened them and took as much rust off as I could and they actually work better than the pair I lost (which were cheap). I think this set had to have been top of the line at some point, probably decades ago....

Now the fly spray. This is really essential. I get asked a lot how I trim my horses all on my own, without anyone holding them. The key is they HAVE to be comfortable. You can't expect a horse to stand well for you if they have flies eating them alive. Pyranha flyspray is the best brand I've found so far. It is very effective on biting flies, like deer flies and horse flies.

It also helps to have an audience. It doesn't take the dogs long to figure out I'm setting up to trim feet and they line up, waiting for the yummy trimmings (gross).

I'm starting the series with Paula for a few reasons. First, she needed trimmed the worst, although she was only at 7 weeks since her last trim. Her feet have to be trimmed at minimum at 6 weeks, on the dot. Her feet really went to hell when she was leased out and I've been working hard to bring her back to where I had her before she left my care. Unfortunately genetics from her momma give her feet that grow no heel, so it's very important to keep up on her feet in order for her to grow strong heels.

The before shot:

I've drawn arrows showing the flares on her feet. Fortunately I've been able to get her heels back in order since the awful lease situation, but we're still battling flairs. It would help a lot if I stayed on schedule, though!

Here is the bottom of her foot, before any work at all.

You can see she is flaired on both sides and her heels have begun to turn under some (which is why she can't be left to "self-trim" at all--she would have skiis in no time). You can see, though, that her soles are in terrific shape. You can see the line where I need to trim--her soles slough off naturally, which is very healthy and give a hard, protective layer that allows her to walk on gravel without shoes and without bruising.

First thing I do is clean all four feet.

A pretty healthy frog--needs to expand a bit more but that is from her heels going to hell last year. It takes quite a while for the frog to catch up with the rest of the foot, but her frog is at least naturally very clean and has a good hard skin over it.

You can see in this shot that she is slightly off balance and is flared out on the sides quite a bit.

You can also see where she has very little heel but her toe is long.

You can see the same thing in this shot as well--very long toe and flared out on the side. Notice how the angle of her foot effects the entire angle of her pastern, throwing her whole leg off. This is why trimming is so important. The hoof is the foundation for the rest of the horse. 60% of a horse's weight is in it's front, and if those angles are off, that means the leg is going to have trouble supporting that weight and the legs will soon begin to break down.

Front shot showing the flares.

So let's get to work! I take the nippers and begin. In this shot you can see where I took off very little heel, but look at how much I'm digging into her toe. If you are just starting you certainly don't want to be this aggressive. It took me 4 years to get confident enough in knowing my hoof structure to get this aggressive.

It's always better to take off too little than too much, but I've trimmed Paula's feet all her life and know exactly what we need to do here.

I took this shot to show that I'm not only changing the depth of the cut, but also the angle. Notice how I stayed flat along her heel and bar, but as I move towards the toe I angle towards the outside of the foot. This will not only give her a nice roll to move on, but it also helps take off more of the toe without digging into the sole and making the horse lame. I only do this much of an angle at the toe when I need to take off a lot of toe, like I do here.

Traditional farriers do not do this because they are taught to trim flat all the way round to make an even bed for a shoe, which makes sense, but here I'm trying to keep from having to put shoes on Paula, so I'm going to round off that toe and give her a really nice breakover to keep her from wearing down her heels as much as I possibly can.

Next picture is after the trim, before any rasping. You can see the toe looks a lot better, but we have some significant flares to deal with.

A side shot, with an arrow showing the flare. Not pretty....

A shot showing the flares after trimming (and before any rasping at all).

Flares from the back:

Rasping begins. I like to clean up the bottom with the rasp, then start in on the flares from the top. This can be difficult if the horse begins to lean, but just be patient and persistent. Don't lose your temper--if you need to take a break for a few minutes and then ask the horse for it's foot again. Eventually they learn to stand pretty well whether you use a stand or not.

I don't have a stand--it got lost in Texas, too. I actually end up having a better trim without it, although it's more work for me.

I do one side at a time. Her inside flare wasn't too bad. I just rasp straight down and it gives her hoof a nice edge. Then clean up the bottom with the fine side of your rasp.

You can see here what the difference is. Unfortunately the grass got in the way, but look hard and you'll see the flare on the inside (left) is rasped off, leaving a clean, proper edge. You can also see where, on the right side, the flare still needs to be taken care of.

Same thing, bottom view.

This really shows the importance of taking care of those flares. When the flare is rasped down, it creates a nice, tight foot where weight is more evenly distributed. On the right, the foot is splayed out (flared) and you can see where the hoof will eventually break down if this isn't taken care of.

Back view. Left side, flare is rasped. Right side, not rasped. Again, on the right side, that hoof will eventually break down, whereas on the right it is trimmed, nice and neat and tight, giving an even weight-distribution.

I went ahead and rasped off the right side. Again, grass is in the way, but you can see the foot looks a lot tighter, cleaner, and even.

Bottom view, finished hoof. The foot is no longer the splayed mess I started with. The toe is back to its proper position, flares gone, and the hoof looks clean and even. I did take the hoof knife to the area beside the frog to eliminate the pockets where thrush can gather. Otherwise I never touch the soles with the hoof knife, unless the horse is in really bad shape sole-wise. Paula's soles are very healthy and slough off naturally (as they should with a healthy hoof). This leaves a nice, hard surface and keeps her sound.

Also note the roll I've given her on her toe. I've found it's perfectly fine for a horse to bear some weight on it's sole. The roll gives the neccessary break-over Paula needs to move well. Her natural tendancy to grow no heel makes her more prone to developing navicular issues, so I give her a good breakover to keep pressure off that navicular bone and hopefully lead to her being sound her entire life.

Here is a bottom view of the finished foot. Note where the arrow is, where I rasped off that flare. It is a bit uneven there now, but the toe and heel are even and will properly bear the weight where her bar is off until the hoof grows back into its correct position.

Here I'm rasping the side of her other front hoof.

All better! Front feet are DONE!

Before we progress to the back feet, I get asked a lot how I get my horses to stand so well. I'm not exactly sure, to be honest. Trial and error is a big part of it--I didn't start off having them stand well for me, that's for sure.

One thing I try to do, as mentioned before, is make the horse comfortable. PLENTY of good fly spray, make sure they're not hungry or thirsty, keep them in sight of their friends, and don't overwhelm them (one step at a time). If you have a horse that's never been trimmed before, don't count on being able to get everything done that day. Maybe just get all 4 feet cleaned out, or maybe just run a rasp across the fronts. Rome wasn't built in a day, and horses aren't trained in a day, either :)

Another thing I do is keep my work short, low and to the inside. Here is what I mean:

I sincerely apologize for not forewarning you that there was going to be a shot of my big ass.

If you're still with me, and haven't gone blind, please note the angle of Paula's leg, which is the point of this picture. My "farrier" stance is low and I keep my knees as much under her as possible. I don't think it's fair to ask a horse to stand on three legs, keep it's balance, while I tug and pull the fourth out from under them. I've found I get a LOT less resistance if I give the horse frequent breaks, keep their foot as close to the ground as I can, and up underneath them as much as I can.

I can thank Eddie especially for teaching me this. His legs just don't have any give to them at all, so I had to learn to stand almost underneath him to trim. Then when I applied this to my "normal" horses I found they stood much better and I was able to get my trimming done much quicker if I just took a little more consideration to their balance and angles.

Here I wanted to show how I do the rasping. I had to set the camera on the trailer so it's not the best shot, but you can see where my big hips come in handy LOL!

I just rest her hoof on my thigh and use my free hand as leverage. If she starts to lean on me I can pretty easily take my butt, back, and shoulder and lean her back onto herself without letting go of her foot (so as not to reward bad behavior). The problem with a stand is you really don't know they're leaning until they've gone off the stand and then they're already rewarded and you can't do a thing about it.

On to the back feet!

Paula's back feet stay in a lot better shape than her front, but she still has some flares.

This picture is actually her right back. Below is her left back, so you can see she flares pretty badly to the outside.

Circled here I've shown where I actually cut out her flare with the nipper. On the back feet, this area is ok to "lose" as the bars naturally indent here, so I was safe digging into this spot.

Another picture showing the flare cut out.

I then rasp to clean it all up and here is the finished foot.

I circled the area I'm not real happy with, but this goes to show that this work is never perfect. By the time I took this photo, I was very hot, sweaty, and tired, so I could have worked on this flare a lot more. Tomorrow I'll take the rasp to it.

However, please take note that the back feet are shaped differently from the front. One of the easiest ways a farrier will lame a horse is shaping the back feet like the front (this right here is why I learned to trim--a farrier I had out took a sound filly and made her lame for 6 weeks until that foot grew back). The back feet will have a lot more heel and be more of a pointed shape, whereas the front feet will be a rounded shape.

Here are the finished back feet. Note the angle and the amount of heel versus the front feet.

Would be easier to see the heel if it wasn't in the grass, huh? I'll try to do better next time....

I hope you enjoyed, or at least found somewhat informative, this first part of what will hopefully become a small series on hoof trimming. Again, I am absolutely no expert, but I always try to pass along what I've learned through trial and error so hopefully you can progress a little easier than what I've had. Please, post comments and any questions--if I dont' know the answer I'll see if I can find it. The Pete Ramsey website under links at the left is a wealth of information on trimming.

Last, but not least, I had to show Paula's first "flea bite." I was hoping she'd stay her pretty gray/white/lavender color, but it looks like she'll soon be a flea bitten gray. That's ok--I love this girl anyway--and always will :)

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