Trimming the Sole of the Hoof
It occurred to me that many people don’t know exactly what should be trimmed and what should be left alone on the sole of the hoof. Of course, I know there are different opinions on this (and I’m sure to hear some in the comments!), but I wanted to explain what I trim on the sole.
Trimming hooves takes some knowledge and practice, and I don’t advise anyone to just jump into it blindly, but it’s not rocket science as many people might have you believe. If you really want to learn to trim your own horses, I’m all for it. Just make sure you understand the structures inside the hoof and do some research (or take lessons!) before you ever lay a trimming tool to a hoof. And always start slow. But even if you don’t trim and have no plans to do so any time soon, it’s always a good idea to know how the hoof should be trimmed.
So let’s talk about the sole. . .
When I was a kid and would help hold our horses for the farrier, I would watch him pare out the sole with a knife in preparation for a shoe. The finished product was pretty and I never really thought much about it. That was just the way things were done.
But that’s not the way I do things now. Of course, if you follow this blog, you know that I don’t put shoes on my horses, and you also know that I do a barefoot trim. The sole of the hoof is important for many reasons, and I never cut into live sole.
With that said, I do often use a hoof knife on the sole though. And I’m trimming/ scraping away two specific things:
1.) Dead sole
2.) Overgrown bars
There is one more thing I might trim, but I’ll come back to that in a second.
So you might be wondering how you know if sole is dead or not? This is actually not all that complicated. Dead sole can usually be scraped away with a knife or even a hoof pick. It’s crumbly and sometimes chalky looking. It tends to build up in the seats of corn (see diagram below) especially, but you will also often find it around around the frog and toe. This, I don’t have a problem taking out because it’s what my horses would naturally wear away anyway if they lived on rougher terrain.
Overgrown bars were a bit trickier for me to recognize at first, but now I can spot them pretty easily. The bars can fold over and cover a big portion of the sole sometimes. They may even appear like rough, bumpy sole. They can be safely trimmed away, but there is some research out there (see this article and this one) that overgrown bars are actually there to help protect a thin sole. So you can experiment with leaving them alone to see if your horse is actually sounder this way. (I plan on doing more experimenting with this.)
As I said above, those are the main two reasons I would ever trim the sole, but there is occasionally a third reason, which I don’t advise anyone doing unless they have some experience. This would be in the case a false sole– or dead sole packed on top of the live sole. It’s actually not that uncommon to see this happen in drier weather. Usually the false sole will shed on it’s own, coming off in large chunks. But if it doesn’t, you may need to help it along. Live sole is smoother and doesn’t come off that way.
I am a firm believe in the less is more philosophy of trimming, so my sole trimming methods align with that. But in my opinion, as long as the horse is sound while barefoot, whoever is trimming is probably doing a pretty decent job. If you have thoughts or questions on trimming the sole, please feel free to share in the comments below!