One of the most frustrating aspects of keeping and riding horses barefoot is when they become sore after a trim. Such soreness can pass in a day or it may take a week or two.

This frustration is amplified by the knowledge that shod horses don’t go sore after they are re-shod, and in fact a lot of foot sore horses that are shod walk away quite soundly. This soreness with some barefoot horses is understandably what sends some horse owners back to having their horse shod.

It’s worth noting that if anyone ever says they have never made a horse sore after a trim, they haven’t trimmed many horses! It goes with the territory!

I don’t believe it is possible to eliminate all cases of soreness with barefoot horses, but rather it is about managing and hopefully minimising the problem.

Of course the first step is to try and get to the underlying cause of the problem.

Too long between trims
Many horse owners are programmed for a traditional trimming regime of 6-8-10 weeks between trims. This would be the most common (and most easily solved) cause of foot soreness after trimming.

When feet become overgrown, the weight-bearing structures of the frog and sole are no longer stimulated and rather quickly loose conditioning. Then with a swift removal of overly long hoof wall, these structures are immediately returned to weight bearing and not surprisingly, the result is a sore horse.

Remember that horses evolved in a regime of movement over rough terrain so their feet are adapted to constant ‘micro’ trimming, not an 8 week ‘macro’ trim.

Most horses that are kept barefoot should be trimmed at the very least every 4 weeks, but for barefoot performance without soreness after a trim, the best solution is a fornightly maintenance trim. This way there are no major changes and hopefully no problems, not to mention the perpetual conditioning this allows.

Inappropriate trimming
Often horses are sore after a trim due to inappropriate trimming for that horses particular situation.

The hard part about trimming successfully in all situations, is the huge amount of variation that exists between breeds, environments, riding disciplines and most importantly, pathological hoof conditions.

Over trimming
The primary function of a hoof is to protect soft inner structures. That is a little hard to do if it is all cut off!

Remember the golden rule of hoof frimming – only take what is needed but leave whatever you can behind. Sometimes the over trimming that leads to soreness can be insidious and comes about as a result of trimming too regularly and therefore pushing back the living landmarks (like and over-chewed fingernail), cutting feet progressively shorter all the time.

Unless a horse’s feet are suffering from a major laminitic episode, when weekly trimming may be a requirement, fortnightly trimming is plenty soon enough. In fact the right interval is when there is a small amount of hoof wall clearly grown past the sole plane. It is so important to remember the boundaries when trimming.

A good way to consider feet when maintaining them is to remind yourself that a foot is in a capsule consisting of three components – wall, sole and frog, and consider these individually to avoid over trimming.

Wall – not to be cut vertically below the sole plane.

Remember to be conservative with flaring – it needs to be grown out rather than cut out. If too much is removed, it can lead to over flexing in the hoof capsule. Horses such as the flat soled and thin walled variety can be very sensitive to flare removal.

Sole – functional sole plane should not be removed (except in the rare cases when a horse is ‘holding on’ to false sole).

Frog – it is not so much a case of over trimming with frogs, it is more likely a contibuting factor to making a horse sore if a painful frog (due to thrush or ‘navicular’ aggravation) is returned to weight bearing responsibility before it is ready. If frogs are painful, the heel platforms may need to be left marginally longer.

Sub Clinical Laminitis (SCL)
As our collective knowledge of equine hoofcare evolves, we are coming to an awareness of the extent of laminitic problems with domestic horses, especially at the lower end of the spectrum when there is no clinical lameness present but the horse is “not quite right” – hence the term “sub clinical laminitis” (SCL).

I’m not sure that SCL has ever been ‘officially’ recognised, but it seems to provide an explanation for a large number of horses that are sore post trim (that is at the risk of bobbing around in the sea of the diagnostically destitute…………apologies to Dr Rooney!) And it seems that shod horses can get away with SCL, but barefoot horses cannot.

Symptoms of SCL are: a reluctance to go barefoot on tough surfaces (and ultimately a failure to condition to such surfaces unprotected); not moving forward optimally and flat feet that remain flat despite the best efforts of maintenance trimming.

SCL horses always seem to pull up sore after a trim, no matter how conservative the trimmer is able to be. The longer the interval between trims and the bigger the trim job, the sorer the horse. In addition, they appear to travel better when left with longer walls and flaring untouched. (which wouldn’t be a problem except that trimmed in this manner, the feet would be so far runout in front after a couple of trim cycles that other lameness outcomes are inevitable).

SCL horses show a remarkable improvement when ridden in padded boots.

What causes SCL?
It is simply mild chronic laminitis and is inextricably linked to a horse’s diet. Horses need continual grazing on high fibre, low quality herbage (next issue we will have a large diet article). If, however, they are fed a diet too rich for their design, they inevitably suffer from laminitic changes (some more than others). This explains the higher prevalence of SCL in lush areas – basically all of the settled coastal districts which have reliable seasons, as well as thoroughbreds that have been through the racing ‘feedlot’ and fed a large amount of grain.

What can we do about SCL?
The first step is get educated and the best resource is www.safergrass.org

In regard to trimming to prevent soreness, SCL horses really need the maintenance trimming regime of fortnightly – even if only on the front feet. But the key to success definitely lies with lifestyle changes.

In conclusion : Whatever the cause of soreness after trimming, observational skills become very important. There are no hard and fast rules – if something didn’t work, change it. If soreness is continual, please consult your relevant professional trimmer.

Whatever you do, please don’t ask a horse to work with unprotected sore feet. That’s what boots and pads are for.