By Cynthia Cooper
What is a self-trimming horse?
They aren’t trained to use farrier tools on themselves that’s for sure!
A self-trimming horse is a barefoot horse that wears their hooves naturally, without the intervention of tools to maintain soundness and good hoof function.
All wild horses are self-trimming with their hooves varying according to the terrain they live in. From short, rounded, and extremely hard (on arid ground) to longer walls that break away easily (on wet ground), wild horses adapt to their environment.
I would love to have self-trimming horses. Here’s another domestic horse example in this video. And this page shows more self-maintaining hooves at Rockley Farm, a rehab centre in the UK.
Some of us do have self-trimming horses when we ride them barefoot on abrasive surfaces. Or if we are fortunate enough to have many acres of dry ground and miles of movement daily they will naturally self-trim.
But what about the un-ridden horse and those on softer ground, or smaller tracks? My horses fit this category and as I get older, my back complains about trimming 11 horses.
So I decided to work towards the self-trimming ideal by changing their environment and the way they live in it.
My inspiration came from a visit to Nic Barker’s Rockley Farm back in 2012 where I saw lovely gravel tracks and yards that allowed self-trimming during the rehab process.
I was impressed by how the horses shaped their own hooves to suit their conformation, quickly becoming sound.
So here’s how I changed things over time to achieve a certain degree of self-trimming.
Stage one – Tracks and central yard:
I’ve had my horses on a track system for over 15 years on 2 different properties. At times in the summer when the ground was very hard, they would self-trim for a while.
Their ‘resources’ of hay, water, and limited grazing are spaced as far apart as possible which provides more incentive for movement.
Now I’ve added a central yard to their track so I have a combined Equicentral and Paddock Paradise set-up.
This gives them more incentive to come into the yard for shelter, company, and mineral feeds each day, resulting in more movement overall.
Stage 2 – Extending hard surfaces:
To help with self-trimming I put in a 30m gravel lane from the gravel-surfaced yard (20m long) leading out to their main track.
They seem to be using it at least three times a day so that’s 6 trips along the lane and into the full length of the yard which equals at least 350m of walking on gravel.
And that’s not taking into account the moving around they do in the yard as they jostle to talk to the boys next door, use the salt lick, etc.
They have also worn dirt tracks within their grass track of 1km long, which assists in more hoof wear.
It cost me a day’s work to supervise and $1300 for the excavator and gravel to surface the lane.
Their self-trimming will be paid off in 7.5 months ($40 per trim at 6 weekly intervals for 7 horses) and save my back health in the process.
Step 3: – Adding more wear points:
I plan to add another 50m of surfaced gravel to reach the main gate of the track.
And then as I find more money, time and rocks I’ll add rock around the water trough and dam edges, and all gravel through the wetter sections of track and gateways.
Another method I may try in the future is to lay a rough concrete surface to the smaller holding yard areas. I saw an example of this working effectively for self-trimming in the UK on a small acreage. The concrete yard was where the horses are fed their buckets, groomed, and hang out for shelter so the movement on this surface naturally wore their hooves.
The only downside to concrete is it’s unforgiving nature so having free access for them to choose how long they stay on it is important.
Self-trimming hooves can look ugly – and that’s ok!
Depending on the type of terrain, hooves can chip and break off unevenly and this looks untidy.
Some will wear with flares and unusual angles and often that’s ok too.
The horse’s hoof will wear according to their conformation and unless the horse is under a year old, you can’t change that bone structure.
In fact, it can be detrimental to the horse’s soundness to trim the hoof to ‘perfection’.
Again Nic Barker has found that allowing unsound horses to wear their hooves to whatever shape works for them, brings back soundness, no matter how ugly the hooves look.
If you prefer to have your horse’s hooves looking tidy, one of the least invasive things you can do is use a Radius Rasp to smooth the hoof wall edge providing a bevel to reduce cracking.
While my horse’s hooves are not picture-perfect, they are functional and relatively healthy. I have faith they will improve as I can provide more abrasive areas for them to move over and stand on.
I hope this has given you some ideas for helping your horse maintain their own hooves as much as possible.
This article also appeared in The Horse’s Hoof magazine – Summer 2020 issue.