Natural Trimming Series, Part 4: The Frog
Just a little recap of my Natural Trimming Series thus far:
And now, for Part 4: The Frog
With Pete Ramey’s model of the natural trim, the frog is usually trimmed very little or often times, not at all. I cannot leave it out of my series though, for the frog reveals quite a bit about your horse’s hoof health and knowing what a healthy frog looks like is essential to your horse’s overall hoof health.
I would venture to guess that the frog is one of the most misunderstood parts of the horse’s outer hoof anatomy. Many people (including professionals) simply don’t know what a healthy frog looks like.
Most shod horses have overgrown but weak frogs that only serve as a fungus and bacteria trap. Even many barefoot horses have frogs that can’t function properly because the heels have been left too long.
A healthy barefoot hoof will have a frog that is large, leathery, callused, and firm and which blends almost seamlessly into the heel bulbs. The central sulcus (center of frog) will be shallow and clean-looking (as opposed to a deep crevice.)
The Frog’s Function
The frog allows for the hoof’s expansion upon contact with the ground and aids in the overall shock-absorbing function of the hoof. It transmits the concussive forces of movement to the underlying digital cushion while protecting the digital cushion at the same time. It also serves as a traction surface for the horse.
All in all, the frog is a pretty important part of the hoof and helping the horse to maintain a healthy frog is extremely important for proper movement.
One important thing to remember is this: if the frog doesn’t come into regular contact with the ground, it cannot function properly!
Frog Disease (Thrush)
Unfortunately, diseased frogs are all-to-common and often times go unnoticed. Most of us are familiar with thrush and think we would recognize it if we saw it, but thrush isn’t always what we think it is. (See this post for more on thrush.)
Pain in the frog caused by the invasion of fungus or bacteria is often times diagnosed as ‘caudal heel pain’ or ‘navicular syndrome’. The horse does have heel pain, but it’s in the frog and not in the internal structures. . . yet. As the pain continues though, the horse will alter its gait (toe-first landing) to protect the sensitive frog. With time, this altered gait CAN cause degenerative changes to the internal structures of the hoof.
In an effort to help the problem, horses are often shod with therapeutic shoes (such as egg bars or wedges) which seem to give the horse some relief but don’t solve the problem. The shoes won’t allow for proper circulation and expansion in the hoof and won’t allow the frog to be in contact with the ground, which further exacerbate the problem. It’s a never-ending cycle. (And this is why people say, “see, my horse needs shoes!”)
In short, disease won’t allow the frog to function as it should, and in turn could compromise your horse’s entire hoof health and well-being.
So what should you do if you believe your horse’s frog is compromised with thrush? The answer isn’t always simple, but the following should be a priority:
- A balanced diet with special attention paid to trace minerals (see these posts on iron overload and zinc deficiencies);
- Consistent natural trimming (every 4-5 weeks) by a competent barefoot hoofcare specialist (which can be you!);
- Comfortable movement (which may mean using boots and pads), striving to achieve a heel-first landing; and
- Thrush treatment (see this post or this post for some options).
Trimming the Frog
With the natural trim, you won’t often trim the frog, as I mentioned before. Usually, the only time you will do much trimming of the frog at all is if shoes have just been removed. In this case, the frog may be too long and will need to be trimmed level with the heels. I personally have not done this, though since my horses were already barefoot when I took over their hoof care.
After that first trim (right after removing shoes), you will likely not need to trim the frog again. The only exception will be if flaps develop which could harbor bacteria. These need to be carefully cut away with a hoof knife. Also, if there is obvious thrushy and rotting frog, you will want to remove this before treating the thrush.
For the most part, you will leave the frog alone though. Keep the heels and toes short and watch the frog become tough, callused, and functional!
Sources (which I highly recommend reading for more information):
I will do one more installment in this series–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.