By the time you look at the bottom of the hoof, you should have already seen several indicators of what is a proper trim for that hoof.

That was the consensus of a large and enthusiastic group of attendees at the 2013 International Hoof-Care Summit who took part in the Hoof-Care Roundtable on using landmarks to guide trimming.

The Roundtable was moderated by Versailles, Ky., farrier Steve Stanley, who brought along a brief PowerPoint presentation to get the conversation started. It didn’t take long.

Attendees agreed that you should start seeing some of those indicators as you approach the horse — or perhaps as the horse approaches you. Observing the horse’s gait and stance will tell you something, including whether the hoof pastern axis is in line.

Hairline Clues

They also agreed that it’s important to read the hairline and determine:

  • Is the hairline level in front?
  • Is the hairline at the heels the same height?
  • When you look down at the hoof, does the hoof wall follow the shape of the hairline?

In a follow-up conversation after the Summit, Stanley said while the Roundtable discussion was very wide ranging, their was a general agreement that the hairline provided an important early indicator of what’s going on with the feet.

“If the hairline is not even, that’s probably a sign that the foot is not landing evenly,” he says. “If it’s flat, but is not parallel to the ground, that can be an indication that the hoof is not level.”

Stanley emphasizes that hairline distortion is not in and of itself a problem, but is an indication that something is out of kilter — very likely the balance of the hoof or the horse.

“The hairline is a first indicator; a very good first indicator,” he says. “But it’s certainly not the only indicator.”

A Sign, But Not The Cause

The trick is to be able to determine what is causing the hairline distortion, whether it’s conformation, an issue with the alignment of the of hoof-pastern axis, an improper trim, the type of work the horse is doing or any of many other factors.

“You need to look over that horse,” he says. “Look at the pastern above the hairline as well as at the canon bone.”

Roundtable members also agreed that hock conformation will affect your trimming strategy. Several farriers in the group noted that in sickle-hocked horses, the hoof wall is normally too full in the toe area and too thin in the heels. Horses with offset knees tend to land on their lateral heel first, which can lead to crushing of that heel inward and upward.

Focus On The Frog

When discussion turned to the bottom of the foot, Stanley says it seemed most participants liked to use the frog to guide their eye.

“Most people said they want to have a hoof capsule that’s centered around the trimmed frog,” he says. “One of the guys mentioned that a healthy frog will stay where it is, but the hoof wall will move, develop flares or get pushed in. You want to bring that foot back into symmetry.”

That may take a while, or even not be possible in some cases.

“When you have horses that are always working — race horses, or busy show horses — you may never get rid of some distortions,” says Stanley, who has spent most of his career shoeing Standardbred horses at the Red Mile racetrack in Lexington, Ky. “Depending on that horse’s conformation and the type of work it’s doing, you may have to trim to correct that every time. Then it’s a matter of managing the issue, rather than fixing it.”