There are many things to consider when determining how long to go between trims. In this geographic area the standard trimming/shoeing cycle is approximately 6-8 weeks. My own scheduling is usually based around a 4-6 week cycle, though I have the odd horse or group of horses that go a little longer.
What I want to discuss in this blog is a much shorter trimming cycle that is favoured among some very successful and highly respected farriers/trimmers that I follow. What I am seeing and learning from them is that a shorter cycle is far better for the horse, and the overall health of the hooves and therefore the body and mind (My whole horse approach to health will be featured in an upcoming article) of the horse.
First lets think about the ultimate goal we have in trimming our horses hooves. For me it is to mimic the wear patterns that are demonstrated by the wild horses of the US Great Basin and other dry desert dwelling feral equines. These equines are clinically sounder then our domestic horses and have virtually no instances of founder, navicular disease and many other hoof pathologies we see so commonly in our domestic horses.
So if we can apply that principle to our trimming, our mandate would be to trim in order to mimic natural wear over varied terrain. So then the correct trim schedule would have to be based on each horse’s individual hoof wear. Because the hoof is in a perpetual state of growth, this means that immediately after trimming the hoof is already replacing that (worn) material that was removed. The goal then should be to allow the hoof to grow to the optimal length and thickness required for that individual horse. It should then be trimmed again just before it grows past optimal to a leveraging state. If it is allowed to grow too long the forces during impact and movement will start to distort the hoof. When trimming we will then have to perform what is called a rehab trim as opposed to a maintenance trim. A maintenance trim means we are just trimming excess length, and that excess has not caused the start of any breakdown or distortion of the hoof. A rehab trim means that we are correcting pathologies or distortion usually caused by excess length.
The hoof on the left shows a hoof that has grown excess length but is still balanced and not distorted. The overall length needs to come down and the break-over needs a new mustang roll, but otherwise this hoof is balanced, a maintenance trim. The hoof on the right is much longer, and has grown out of balance. The heels have moved forward and the toe is stretching forward. The frog is small and narrow and appears diseased in the central sulcus. Not an extremely distorted hoof but a rehab trim, not a maintenance trim.
The shorter trim cycle will prevent distortion and instead more closely mimic natural wear. For most horses the trimming cycle that these farriers/trimmers are finding works best is 2-4 weeks, 3 weeks being the average correct cycle for most horses. It is important to understand that because these trims are closer together there will be less material to remove. On a 3 week trim cycle there would be little need for nippers, it would really just be a rasp to maintain balance and remove the excess and possibly some knife work if the bars or frog needed addressing.
Where this interests me is with a select few horses I trim that are sensitive on hard or rocky ground immediately after a trim for about 3-5 days. Not sensitive in their paddocks or living environments, but sensitive being ridden on unforgiving ground where they otherwise would have been fine. What those horses need is for me to leave a little more material at the trim, but because I won’t be trimming them again for 4-6 weeks if I leave that extra material we are at a point of distortion before the next trim and then we are back to rehab trims as opposed to maintenance trims. However if I could trim less, and then trim the horse again in 3 weeks there would be less instances of sensitivity after the trim and less instances where the hoof gets to that distortion point before the next trim..
This is easy for me to process, however it becomes a challenge when trying to help horse owners to understand that trimming less more often is in the best interest of their horse. For the horse owner it means they are paying for trims twice as often, seeing much less of a difference in the before and after of the trims, and they are having to schedule me twice as often, taking up their valuable time.
My goal is to make this process easy and beneficial for everyone. I have started a pilot project with a few clients where I am trimming their horses every 3 weeks, and evaluating the horses’s comfort levels before the trim, immediately after and at the end of the 3 week cycle. I am also looking for any hoof distortion (if present) in order to determine the optimal length of cycle for each specific horse. I am working on a price structure that includes a reduced cost for horses that are on a maintenance trim schedule vs those that are in a constant cycle of rehab trims. This would make trimming at these shorter intervals more cost effective and because there is less material to be removed the trims would take less time. Ultimately the biggest advantage of the shorter cycle is for the horse. The closer we can mimic the natural wear pattern of the wild horse, the closer we can come to achieving the soundness seen in those wild herds and the virtually non existent hoof pathology that we so commonly see in our domestic horses.
Kristi Luehr is a barefoot trimmer, author, and founder of the Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care. She is certified by the Canadian Farrier School as well as the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care, and also has certification in equine massage and dentistry. Her focus is to educate owners about hoof anatomy, function and proper barefoot trimming that supports and grows healthy and functional hooves specific to each horse's individual needs. She is the author of two online courses specific to hoof care and is always striving to create more educational content for students to learn from.