Natural Trimming Series, Part 3: The Bars and Heels
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
I plan to write two more installments in this natural trimming series–on the frog and finally the toe.
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.