Natural Trimming Series, Part 1: The Sole

I’ve decided to do a several-part series on natural trimming.  For each part, I will focus on one specific part of the hoof–and for this post, it will be the sole.


Before Trim


The natural trimming method that I use is based almost solely (no pun intended!) on Pete Ramey’s teachings.  There may be a few variations/ differences between the different schools of natural trimming thought, but I believe that at the core, they all share one basic philosophy–that as a natural trimmer, you must learn to read each horse’s hooves and trim them according to their true nature.

With that said, let’s move on to the sole!  The sole occupies the largest portion of the underside of the hoof and is of great importance in overall hoof health.  Along with the collateral grooves, the sole should be your primary guide for the natural trim.

According to Pete Ramey, “the sole of the foot is the most abused and  misunderstood part of the domestic horse (with the possible exception of its digestive system.)”  In fact, watch any traditional farrier, and the sole is likely the first he or she begins paring with the hoof knife at the start of the trim.  The sole has long been treated as an ‘idle passenger’ and has not been paid the respect it is certainly due.

The sole of the hoof should actually bear the majority of the horse’s weight–not the walls as many people may think.  But in order to do this, it needs to be healthy, thick, and calloused.  Several factors come into play with building a healthy sole–namely movement, diet, and proper trimming.


Using the Sole as Your Guide for Trimming

inner hoof structures

The sole is the only thing standing between your horse’s coffin bone (P3) and the ground.  When you pare the live sole away–whether it be near the toe or around the frog–you are taking away the horse’s natural protection for the inner hoof structures.  A thin sole is also more susceptible to abscesses.

hoof diagram


The goal in natural trimming is to allow the horse to build a thick, calloused, and concave sole.  By leaving the sole along as much as possible and keeping the walls and bars standing barely above the sole, you should be able to achieve this (allowing the horse plenty of movement, of course.)

When trimming, you must learn the difference between live sole, which is hard with a waxy appearance, and dead sole, which is usually whitish and flaky.  Dead sole can come off.  Live sole should never be trimmed. When in doubt, leave the sole alone.  The basic rule to remember in learning to trim is ‘less is more’.

Occasionally, a horse can accumulate what’s known as a ‘false sole’.  This is basically dead sole that appears live, although dull in color.  You will know it’s a false sole because it will begin coming off in chunks or large flakes, revealing shiny live sole beneath.

False sole

False sole


Overgrown bars can also appear to be part of the sole as well–they need to be trimmed away (but I’ll focus on the bars later.)


overgrown bars


The first time you trim your horse (after shoes have been removed or after excessive hoof growth), you will have some dead sole to deal with.  Use a hoof pick or hoof knife and carefully scrape the white, chalky substance away.  Scrape it away until you reach hard, live sole.  After the first one or two natural trims though, you won’t have to touch the sole nearly as much.  If you do, it is usually in the right around the frog or the seats of corn.



White, chalky sole that can be scraped away


Sole Thickness

You can get a good idea of the sole’s thickness by examining the collateral grooves (the grooves between the sole and the frog)–the deeper the grooves, the thicker the sole.  A flat-footed horse with shallow collateral grooves needs to build more sole.




A horse with deep collateral grooves and solar concavity likely has adequate sole thickness.




As you learn to trim (or closely observe a trimmer) you will learn to read the sole.  Like all things, it takes time though.  If you want to learn to trim your own horses, I recommend reading as much as you can, watching DVD’s (like Pete Ramey’s ‘Under the Horse’), working with a mentor, and/or participating in a clinic.

For the next part of this series, I will focus on the hoof walls–the part of the hoof that you will consistently trim.



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.


Understanding the Horse’s Soles

Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You


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

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13 Responses

  1. monica goold says:

    Brilliant iformation, thank you very much 🙂

  2. Gloria Thomas says:

    How can I help my horse to grow a thicker sole? He has very thin soles and is very “ouchy”. I do not want to put shoes on him.

    • then5925 says:

      Keep the walls short–about 1/16 inch above the sole. Same with the heels, although you don’t want to do anything drastic all at once. If this is done consistently and the horse is allowed plenty of movement (not stalled or kept in small pen), then the sole callus should build naturally. Adding pea gravel to an area where the horse frequents is helpful, too. Of course, if a horse has subclinical laminitis, the diet will need to be addressed.

      • Gloria Thomas says:

        He is out 24/7, not stalled. He is currently being fed Seminole Wellness Safe and Lite. I add vitamine E, and Flax to his feed. He has access to good quality hay most all day. Is there something else diet wise I should do?

        • then5925 says:

          I have a mare that was in shoes for nearly 20 years before she came to me. I’m pretty sure she has subclinical laminitis, though I haven’t had x-rays done. I am very careful with her diet–keep her muzzled most of the day, low sugar hay & feed (below 12% NSC). She still has flat soles though. We have the problem of too much green grass here and it’s not good. I’m in the process of building a ‘paddock paradise’ system to get my horses moving more and eating less grass. I really think movement is important to building the soles. You might check out my posts on iron overload and insulin resistance too. Is he being trimmed every four weeks? This is important, too or the walls tend to get too long.

          • Robynne Catheron says:

            The best way to thicken soles is to lead or ride him on hard-packed ground, like asphalt or concrete, or even frozen (but not icy, for safety reasons) ground, at least three or four times a week for at least 20 or 30 minutes.   Either walking or trotting is fine, whichever is more convenient for you and more comfortable for your horse.  Be consistent and dedicated for several weeks, or months, whatever it takes!  Winter time is ideal for this, because of the hard ground, and also because most people who shoe their horses will pull them off for the winter (thank goodness for at least that!).   Your horse definitely has to be barefoot for this to work, btw, because any peripheral growth wwon’t have anywhere to go – healthy growth is constrained by the metal shoes. 
            I have personally proven this method over and over, not only with my own horses but with many other horses whose owners were committed to improving the quality of their horses’ feet.  As an added bonus, the hoof walls will be tougher and harder, and the frog will be stronger!  Just make sure you have a natural barefoot trimmer (not a farrier), and more importantly, try to keep your horse on a three-to-four week trim schedule religiously throughout the year.  It’s best to maintain their hooves at the same length, and get out of the “let them grow and cut them off, let them grow and cut them off” cycle.   Exercise, frequent trimming, environment, diet and hoof supplements are the four major factors in a healthy, happy hoof, and not necessarily always in that order.

  3. You need to study Gene Ovnicek method of hoof mapping …I too used Pete’s methods for many years…while great for laminitis his method of trimming the heel should not be used long term because it locks the horse into under-running heels. Pete’s trim also over trims at the Pillars so your horses never gain maximum sole deepth and concavity.

    • Casie says:

      I have read about Gene Ovnicek and his four-point trim. Can you explain how Pete’s method of heel trimming sets the horse up for under-run heels? I’ve not had this problem at all, and I’ve been using his methods for the last four years or so.

  1. October 18, 2013

    […] Part 1 of this series, I focused on the sole.  Part 2 was about the hoof wall, and now Part 3 will focus […]

  2. October 25, 2013

    […] Part 1: The Sole […]

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