What To Do With Those Bars?
I’m back! From teaching that is. But while I’ve been away, I’ve been compiling a list of blog post topic ideas, including some which relate to one of my favorite things to write about: the feet.
I happen to be a member of several different online barefoot trimming groups where people regularly post pictures and ask for help/ critiques. A common comment I see pertains to the bars of the hoof. Some people say, “Those need to be trimmed!” Others say, “They’ve been trimmed too much.” or “Leave them alone!”
So what’s a person to do?
The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. In my opinion, and as many others will say as well, it depends on the horse.
But to begin with, let’s talk about what the bars are exactly:
In a sense, the bars are where the hoof wall and heel bulbs meet. They are technically a continuation of the hoof wall growing on the inner part of the hoof. The bars extend from the heel buttress to around the halfway point of the frog. As far as function goes, the bars support the back part of the hoof, enable hoof expansion upon impact, and dissipate energy going to the lateral cartilages (which they lie directly below) as well as the digital cushion.
Like the hoof wall, the bars are subject to wear, but each horse tends to be an individual when it comes to this part of the hoof. In fact, there really is no “standard” when it comes to trimming the bars. It will depend on the horse, his environment, his activity level, and any underlying hoof conditions.
It is now commonly understood that like the sole, frog, and hoof wall, the bars also share in the weight-bearing role of a healthy barefoot hoof. This idea, alone, should tell us to stop and think twice before trimming them too aggressively.
Here’s what Pete Ramey says about his own experience with the bars:
For years I routinely trimmed the bars and the sole ridge that extends from them (along the frog) to the level and flow of the rest of the natural, callused sole plane without giving it much thought. I saw a great deal of success, but in hindsight only a shadow of what I see now. I was stuck in the thought that pressure to the bar region needed to be reduced and kept to a minimum, even as I constantly said, ‘Nature would not and did not put anything on the bottom of the horse that was not intended to bear weight,’ and ‘Nothing is passive on the bottom of the foot in varied terrain; everything that casts a shadow bears weight.’
I once thought bar pressure caused navicular disease. Now I believe navicular damage or change is actually caused by toe first landing and peripheral loading. I was once taught that bars could become “impacted” into the hoof capsule; dissections and monitoring live horses proved this is not true. I once thought bar pressure caused heel contraction and sensitivity, but the horses taught me otherwise years ago. So I realized it was just my habit to always trim the bars to the callused sole height; nothing more.
The bars will almost always start to maintain their own height at the level of the sole or perhaps an 1/8th to 1/4 inch longer than the sole if you leave them alone. The less you trim the bars, the shorter they become! The flip-side is that the more routinely you trim the bars, the quicker they pop back and need to be trimmed again. Leaving a longer bar (and sole ridge around the frog) accelerates the process of achieving a deeply concaved sole by providing support to the internal structures and reducing sole wear.
Pete also goes on to say:
[Bar length] varies dramatically with terrain. The bars need enough relief (solar concavity or slope from the heels) that they can descend and the hoof can expand, but more importantly, they need to be in place to “bottom out” to provide vertical support at peak impact loads. On hard, flat terrain, a 1/4 inch taper from the heel buttress to the end of the bar might be perfect. On rocky terrain, much more taper or concavity may be necessary. On soft arena footing the same goals and support ratio may require a bar to be longer than the hoof walls. Severely foundered horses; particularly “sinkers” often love to have all or most of their weight carried by the bars….. I wish it were easier, but honestly listening to the hoof will take you to the right place.
Some horses will self-trim the bars. Others may need some help. It’s up to us to pay attention and see what the hoof needs.
Of course there are some instances where the bars definitely need trimming, such as when the bars are laid over or growing forward. This can happen when the back of the hoof is compromised with weak internal structures, improper hoof balance, etc. In these cases, the bars are likely not functioning as they should and may collapse under the weight of the horse. This seems to be common with “forward foot syndrome” (which I’ve dealt with in Hershey’s hooves).
As you can see, there are no easy answers when it comes to trimming the bars. You’ve got to take each horse’s unique situation into consideration. But in my opinion, two things should be be avoided:
1.) Trimming the bars to the level of the sole;
2.) Allowing overlaid bars to keep growing forward.
That said, I’ve gone for months without so much as touching the bars on my horses’ feet and they seem to do just fine.
Sources and Further Reading: