Even when not shod, just about every horse will have its feet trimmed throughout the year. Developing an efficient trimming technique is essential. There are many ways to trim a foot.
Keep a notebook to record the hoof lengths and angles of the horses you regularly work on. After consulting your notes, mark the toe length with a protractor at the same time you are studying the foot for flares or irregularities. Next, pick the foot up and check the foot for medial-lateral balance. Finally, check the foot angle with an angle gauge before any foot is removed
The practice of “eyeballing” a foot has its problems. I believe it is necessary to spend an appropriate amount of time studying a foot before attempting to trim it. Spending too little or too much time can negatively affect accuracy or efficiency.
Use two knives. Keep a narrow-bladed knife for trimming the frog and a wide-bladed knife for trimming the sole. The narrow blade makes getting into the recesses of smaller feet much easier. The frog knife will remain sharp longer when it is used on frogs exclusively, rather than doing dual duty on the sole.
After the bottom of the foot is cleaned, I like to trim the frog first. When horses have soft, pliant frogs I like to make just two cuts with the hoof knife. The first cut is made from the lateral base to the point of the frog. The second cut is made from the point of the frog to the medial base.
If the horse has a healthy central sulcus, I will leave it alone. If the frog is hard, I use my half-round nippers to open the medial and lateral sulci, and then apply heat to the frog with a soldering torch.
Next, I use my knife to trim the softened frog. Do not attempt to trim frogs that are too hard to cut easily. It is dangerous and time consuming.
The sequence of trimming the sole is also dependent on its hardness and depth. The use of the torch will greatly speed up the process if the sole is hard. It is paramount that you start trimming when the torch leaves the foot, because the sole will harden within 20 seconds.
Get busy and remove the sole in an efficient manner with a super-sharp knife, using long broad cuts. When you are finished, do not go back and micro-trim. This is a waste of time and is not necessary.
You can cut the wall with nippers from heel-to-heel, or from toe to heel and then from toe to the other heel. I prefer heel-to-heel. The key to a good nipping job is to have the cuts overlap by about two-thirds. It will look as if it had been done with a saw. If the wall was trimmed properly, it is child’s play to rasp the foot flat.
Next, lay the gauge on the foot and check for rocking. Simply place the gauge on the foot and apply pressure at the mid points. If it rocks you can identify the high point and rasp according to the amount of rock. This is much faster and more accurate than the old “look” test. At this point, check to see if the angle is what you want it to be.
Making long, smooth strokes diagonally across the foot is the recommended method for rasping. After the foot is rasped it is common to see the farrier “eyeball” the foot again. I feel that using a hoof gauge with its flat surface is a much faster and more accurate method. Finally, bring the foot forward and rasp away any flares that remain on the wall.
When trimming the hind feet, I recommend the use of a cradle. It is truly a win-win situation because horses like to rest on it and it takes a tremendous amount of strain off your back when used properly. Using a stool in conjunction with the cradle allows you to partially sit as you trim the hind feet. This is another way to decrease back strain.