Natural Trimming Series, Part 3: The Bars and Heels

For Part 1 of this series, I focused on the sole.  Part 2 was about the hoof wall, and now Part 3 will focus on back of the foot–the bars and heels.

heel bar diagram

I can’t say I know a whole lot about the traditional trim because I’ve never done it.  My husband was trained in that method though, and from what I understand, the heels are left long and the bars are either ignored or pared out along with the sole.

The natural barefoot trim is quite different.  You want short, balanced heels that stand just above the sole in most cases.   The bars should be kept in check, but allowed to carry their share of the load.

The number one priority of the natural trim is encouraging comfortable movement for the horse.  So you should never do too much too quickly which might make the horse sore. When you’re first learning to trim or when trimming a horse with overgrown hooves, start slow.  Use the principle of ‘less is more’.  If a horse has long heels, you will not want to trim them low in one trimming.  Gradually trim them down.

The Heels

The goal is to get the heels as low as possible.  This may sound very strange if you’re new to natural trimming.  It did to me at first.  We’d spent years trying to ‘grow’ more heel on my gelding, Hershey, after all.

You might envision a flat-footed horse with long toes like a diver wearing flippers.  But when both the toe and heel are both low, the foot will actually look quite normal–and it will function normally as well.

 

ermine spots

 

Before trimming the heels, first clean out the hoof and scrape away any loose, dead sole.  This especially likes to accumulate in the seats of corn–the little V’s between the back of the hoof wall and the bars.  Then either use nippers or a rasp to lower the heels to about 1/16 inch above the sole.  (Again, if heels are long, do this gradually–not in one trimming.)

 

DSC03339

 

Many horses have underrun or forward-slung heels.  This is a problem that needs to be dealt with.  Pete Ramey says, “this is usually initially caused by the quarters being left too long, and it is worse than high heels for the horse, by far.”  Trim underrun heels back, again leaving the heels standing a bit above the sole.  Personally, I’ve found that it’s easier to use a rasp when ‘moving’ underrun heels back.

After you’ve trimmed the heels on one hoof, ‘sight’ the balance of the heels.  They should be even on both sides and the distance to the hairline on both sides should be equal.

 

DSC04414

 

If the horse has uneven feet (for whatever reason), never invade live sole to balance the heels.  Just do the best you can, and the foot may come into balance on its own over time (providing other issues such as an unbalanced bite plane, deformities, etc. are not preventing this.)

 

The Bars

Within natural trimming circles, there are varying views on how to deal with the bars.   I choose to trim them according to Pete Ramey’s method though.  Pete says that the bars should carry a share of the weight load, albeit a passive one.  They should not be allowed to reach the same length as the out hoof wall, but they should not be gouged out either.

 

DSC04326

 

I trim the bars just above the sole and try to keep them from ‘folding over’ and growing across the sole.  A bent bar cannot serve its purpose to help support the hoof.

 

overgrown bars

overgrown bars

 

You will need to consistently monitor the horse’s bars to keep them under control.  Some horses need their bars trimmed at each trimming, while other’s may not.

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I plan to write two more installments in this natural trimming series–on the frog and finally the toe.

Ta-ta!

Sources:

Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You

Disclaimer: I am an owner/ trimmer (who occasionally trims an outside horse).  I’ve studied Pete Ramey’s natural trimming methods extensively, but do not claim to be an expert in the field.

Casie

Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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6 Responses

  1. Robynne Catheron says:

    This is really good, and easy for a layman like me to understand, thanks! When you say you use a rasp to “move” underrun heels back, does that mean, in essence, that you’re pulling/pushing the rasp from the front of the hoof toward the back of the hoof, encouraging them to grow in that direction? I’ve always wondered how that worked, and always forget to ask my own trimmer. Looking forward to the next installment!

    • then5925 says:

      Thanks, Robynne. It’s a little difficult to explain moving the underrun heels back (much easier to show in person), but essentially, you’re lowering them slightly and moving the landing point backwards, toward the heel bulbs. It doesn’t really matter which direction you rasp, but it’s easier to use a rasp because there’s not as much to trim off as there is with a high heel. Does that make sense?

  2. Jan Lear says:

    This is great! I’ve been trimming my three horses for 10 months and while no one appears to be sore, I always wonder if I am doing it right. Love that you addressed heels and bars…two of my biggest wonders. Rather than waiting 3-4-whatever weeks between trims I do a bit every week. If something doesn’t look right I take out the rasp and do a nip here and there, rarely anything drastic. I don’t use nippers. Really like the photo of the overgrown bars. From the side should the hairline go to the ground or should there be a bit of heel showing? Thanks so much for this.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Jan–Glad you found the blog post useful. Using the rasp to trim on a frequent basis is definitely a good way to do it. That way, things never get out of hand. As far as the hairline, I guess it would depend on the individual horse. I would say that most would have some heel showing from the side view, but I suppose some might not. Many people think the heels should be long (to achieve the ‘right’ angle), but a short heel and toe is usually best.

  3. Ana says:

    Does anyone know what to do with a horse that always has hard as steel sole at the heels and they are very long??? I’ve tried paring them down slowly, and I’ve tried putting a bevel, but still no change. The sole’s been shedding at the toe all the way to the middle of the quarters so I’ve been able to shorten those at every trim, but the heels never “ask” to be trimmed! I tried to be a bit less patient and cut them anyway once but he was left sore and with wet corns 🙁
    This horse has never been shod, is only 4 years old and has no frog infections. The digital cushion is not the best i’ve seen, but not bad either. I really can’t figure why his hooves are resisting a natural shape…
    PS.: when I was first called he had been kept with a long heel trim since he was taken from pasture to be schooled, that would be a few months to a year I guess. They don’t trim them before that.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Ana, It sounds like he just has really upright feet. I have one like that. The heels are the main thing I have to trim every month. So weird because none of my other horses are like that. But her feet are just shaped differently. Is it really dry where this horse lives? Just wondering about the environment. Also, sounds like he should have been trimmed when he was a youngster. That might have helped with the digital cushion!

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