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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.