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.

 

hoof diagram

 

dead sole (white chalky stuff)

dead sole (white chalky stuff)

 

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.)

 

overgrown bars

overgrown bars

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.

 

False sole

False sole

 

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!

 

Ta-ta,

Casie

 

Casie

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

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7 Responses

  1. Sue says:

    I have a question. What about trimming the sole back so that it is not lower than the wall? My horse can’t stand the pressure so I have the trimmer make sure there is no sole touching the ground. That has to be trimmed back right? I live in Fl so horse is on soft ground, lots of sand.

    • Casie says:

      I never trim live sole. I guess I’m wondering why the sole would be lower than the wall? (I assume you mean when the foot is on the ground?) I leave the wall just slightly longer than the sole.

  2. Megan says:

    My horse’s soles were dry and cracked looking…also practically 100% flat. He fell…I had a barefoot trimmer in one week after the farrier and she took out about 2 cups of material total…including some hoof wall and some bar. She said there was so much dead material that he did not have a lot of feeling in his hooves and this could have contributed to his fall. Opinion?

    • Casie says:

      That could have been false sole. It can build up pretty thick in dry weather and if the walls are overgrown, especially.

  3. It always rather amuses me to read – not just here but in so many quarters – about trimming “live sole” and “dead sole”. It should be realised that neither exist. The sole is part of the hoof. The hoof is inert – neither living nor dead (it has never been alive and can therefore never be dead; it is merely an excretion). If you are actually cutting into live tissue, then you have gone through the sole and are into the structures underneath that are responsible for the production of the sole…obviously NEVER the intention !
    What you should be looking to remove is generally not even (inert) sole but rather the chalky material that builds up in layers on the surface of the sole. Unfortunately, there are barefoot practitioners that attempt to create concavity in the sole by paring away at it – not really recommended, as you might imagine.
    A false sole or double sole, as it is sometimes known, is something farriers tend to leave well alone for some reason or another. Probably because of all the nastiness that can appear underneath it… There are two main causes for the false sole – the one is when it is truly false and the bars have been neglected to the point that they flatten and cover the whole of the sole; the other is actually not false at all but rather the old sole that is shedding from a new sole underneath – simply renewing itself. The frog will also do this at times too.
    The important thing to remember is that the frog is the support, the sole the balance and the wall the protection, in general terms. The sole should be tidied of flaky rubbish and false/old disconnected layers; the frog should be trimmed of any flaps and traps – that includes anything blocking the lateral grooves; the wall should be trimmed back to the white line making sure that the white line is complete and does not show any signs in infiltration by bacteria (black marks).

    • Casie says:

      Thank you for your comment and advice, Timothy. It appears we disagree on semantics, but otherwise agree on the process of removing the material that should be removed from the bottom of the hoof. 🙂

  4. Dave says:

    Thank you for the discussion on this. I’ve been moving gradually to doing less and less, relying now almost entirely on riding on a combination of abrasive sand (quarry sand in the arenas in our area), turf, and a limited amount of asphalt to maintain the hooves. For the past 8 months, so far, this has been working out very well as his breakover is now perfectly biomechanically determined rather than estimated by me (though my estimations were needed to get him to the point where he can self wear without issues). I should note that I still do round up sharp wall edges weekly or more often if necessary, but it’s all just touching up, and I meticulously pick out his hooves twice a day which I know isn’t the usual.

    I only remove frog if it is very loose, but really don’t need to as it will wear off on it’s own. I no longer see any pockets or other structures on the frog that could trap stuff, that stay for more than a few days – I think perhaps it’s part of the normal process where it loosens up and is maybe helped by the right bacterial action.

    I never touch the sole any more – the flaky material that I sometimes see seems to harden up if I leave it and provides protection. I do have to be careful how much I wear down his hoof walls riding so the soles are always a bit recessed which now stays that way naturally.

    When we started this process by going barefoot when he was 23, he had been routinely lame from hoof issues since I first knew him (OTTB 8 years old), would routinely pull shoes, developed chronic white line disease, etc. After 2 years of transition which certainly had it’s ups and downs early in the process, his hooves are solid, he is never lame, and we’ve returned to training in eventing. The wear on his hooves does interfere at times with what he can do, but mostly I’ve adapted riding to suit the level and types of activity on various footing that he tolerates. I know I am lucky to have the combination of turf, sand and asphalt to ride on. He is, however, very fit and is back to running at racing speeds on the beach – faster than he did with shoes, and at age 25, with absolutely no issues whatsoever….so far.

    I am just learning though, and would like to know why the bars growing out and covering the sole is a bad thing? My OTTB has naturally very light hooves – very thin walled and thin soles. I’ve been hoping that the bars would grow out over them to protect better, but so far it wears off on it’s own.

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