Marquis Farrier Service

Consider Leaving Your Horses Bare Foot. Bare Foot Trim for Healthier Horses.

Before we get started on the “how to”, I want to emphasis that the bare foot trim described in this section of our site is designed for horse hooves that are already healthy and have no serious existing hoof problems. If you are looking to correct an existing hoof condition or problem please see the educational section of our site. However, if you're looking to strengthen relatively healthy horse feet, you're at the right place!

Here's how, in 6 easy to follow steps..

Step 1...

When you pick up a horse's foot do your best to make the horse comfortable. If he isn't comfortable, he won't stand long which will make the job harder for both of you. You can experiment by slowly moving his foot and leg into a position that is comfortable for both of you. This takes some practice, but the trick is to move slowly and feel what the horse is comfortable with. When you find the “sweet spot” you'll know it.

Some horses are more flexible than others and some just require more patience than others. Don't be in a hurry and try to keep your movements slow and deliberate. I've found, talking to the horse seems to help calm them as well. Another technique that I've found often helps the nervous, flighty or fidgeting horse is to have the owner or someone who the horse is comfortable with hold the horse while you work on his feet. Many horses prefer this method to being tied. It's also much safer for you as the farrier. A hoof stand, while not necessary, can make the bare foot trimming job much easier, for both you and the horse. (Read more about hoof stands in Farrier Equipment.) Bare foot trimming is hard work at best, but good tools can make a big difference.

Working on the bare foot trim

Step 2 of the Bare Foot Trim, How To Clean Your Horse's Hoof.

Step 2...

Once you have the foot where you can comfortably work on it. Step two is to clean the horses foot, so that you can see what you're about to work on and exactly what you need to do to complete the bare foot trim. (By removing the dirt and debris you'll be ready for the next step, which will involve using your trimming tools. With the dirt out of the way you won't dull your tools unnecessarily.)

Start with your hoof pick and clean away all the foreign material stuck to the hoof. Next, use a wire brush to clean away any remaining material. (You can buy a combination hoof pick and wire brush which is very handy.) Now you're ready to use your hoof knife if any material remains such as flaky sole or exfoliating frog. (Once “you go bare foot”, often neither flaky sole or exfoliating frog exist because the whole foot is contacting the ground and being used as nature designed, to support the horse.)

Cleaning the horse's hoof with a wire brush

Look closely at this photo. You will see that a portion of the frog is shedding (near the point of the frog). This is a natural process that usually happens about twice a year. A healthy frog is very important for traction, shock absorption, circulation and more. They usually grow larger and become more healthy in a barefoot horse.

Be sure to clean especially well along the deep groove (Commissure) between the edge of the frog and the sole. In moist or wet conditions this is the area that bacteria is most likely to grow. Debris and bacteria can get packed into this area and sometimes cause Thrush which can lead to lameness in a horse. So keep this area clean especially if Thrush is a common problem in your area. If you can smell a foul odor when cleaning this area, then Thrush is present. The bacteria can not grow where air is present, so again, keep this area clean.

(There are many treatments sold to combat Thrush and your Veterinarian can make a recommendation depending on severity).

Most Thrush can be treated with soap, water and iodine solution (about 7%)or simply keeping the hoof clean. In dry climates it is seldom a serious problem. (Unless your horse is kept on irrigated ground or an unkempt corral area.)

Once you begin performing the bare foot trim described here once a month. You will find that the trim becomes relatively quick and easy, meaning there should not be much hoof material to remove. Especially, sole and frog because as the barefoot begins to function as nature intended with all the structures of the hoof working together to support the horse, the hoof begins to self trim and shape itself. Thus, all the terminology about natural hoof trim, wild horse trim, mustang roll etc. that describe healthy wild horse feet that trim themselves.

The first bare foot trim or two after removing shoes or beginning trims of neglected feet, there may be much more hoof structure to remove. Once you and your horse get through this period, your horse is on the way to much healthier feet.

Step 3 of the bare foot trim. Rasp down close to the sole for a healthy well balanced horse hoof.

Step 3...

Step 3 of the bare foot trim requires use of your rasp. I recommend using the rough or aggressive side first but if you don't feel comfortable with it yet, you can use the smoother side, it will just take longer.

Practice using the rough side and once you are comfortable using it, it will speed the bare foot trim making the process easier on you and your horse.

Rasping the hoof with the rasp held to the hoof wall

Learning to use a rasp is not hard but it does take some practice, here are a couple tips:

1. When rasping toward the toe of the hoof start with the rasp flat on the hoof wall resting the rasp on the “quarter” area of the hoof wall, then lightly push toward the toe. (When just learning this technique it may help to have a rasp that has been used, not new. A new rasp is very sharp and may seem sticky or too aggressive when you're first learning this technique.) Practice by trying to remove as little hoof wall as possible with an easy stoke. The secrete is light pressure until you master the feel. (If you've never used a hoof rasp, try it out on a piece of lumber like a scrap piece of 2x4 first, so you can “feel” the proper motion. Place the 2X4 at about the same level and angle as the horse's hoof will be to get the most out of this lesson. Have someone hold it for you while you rasp it.) It's alright to go ahead and use the smoother side of the rasp until you master the feel and motion.

2. Once you've rasped down the the front part of the foot from the quarters to the toe, you're ready ready to turn the rasp around and pull the rasp toward you to rasp the heel area of the foot. Work one heel at a time, lightly pull the rasp toward you with the rasp held flat against the hoof wall to remove the heel buttress area. Stop just before the sole. You will also be able to rasp the bar area of the hoof wall at the same time as the heel, to the same height as the heel. (Often the bar's are already lower than the back of the heels. If so, great, leave them alone.) Once you've completed one heel area, move to the other side and complete rasping of the other heel. You'll likely find one side of the foot easier to rasp than the other. Don't worry, we all have the same problem, lots of practice is the only way to get better and more comfortable with it.

3. Dry horse hooves are very hard to rasp! It will be much easier to learn to rasp your horses hooves if they are moist. If your horse has been on very dry ground before you're ready to trim try soaking his hooves in water first (yes.. hooves soak up water), it will make the job much easier! If you have a creek, mud hole, pond etc. to soak his feet in before trimming you will thank yourself for taking the time to do so. Usually, a few minutes is enough. I like to trim after a rain, or in the winter best. Of course, this is not always possible or practical. If you are a horse owner and have a farrier trim your horses feet and want to do a real favor for your farrier, make sure your horses feet are moist before your farrier has to work on him. If you do, you will build a quick friendship.

Drawing of hoof structures

Most importantly, do not get carried away and remove sole while rasping. If your rasp removes sole you've gone too far! Stop removing hoof wall when you reach the sole. There are very few exceptions to this rule.

In bare foot trimming “less is more” meaning if your not sure whether or not to remove hoof structure, don't!

Generally, in basic bare foot trimming we do not want to remove any live sole from the horse's feet. Trim the hoof wall to the point where the sole meets the hoof wall but no further. If you follow this one rule you will already be ahead of many Farriers, Trimmers and Horseshoers.

Remember that working together the sole, frog and hoof wall support the horse's weight and hold the coffin bone in place.  Removing too much of any of these structures weakens the foot. One of the things I personally struggle with is taking off too much hoof when I trim. I was taught in Horseshoing School to make the hoof “look nice” before I finished with a horse. Too many times “look nice” means removing too much hoof wall, sole and frog (to get to the shiny new material). A strong hoof is much better than a shiny one!

A good rule to keep in mind when bare foot trimming is; When in doubt take less out!

One word of CAUTION..

I started the bare foot trim "Steps" by emphasizing that this trim is for healthy hooves. Some horses hooves are “healthy” in many ways but have hoof walls that are way too long.

If the hoof wall is one inch or more above the level of the sole when you start the bare foot trim, I recommend that you only remove the hoof wall to within one quarter inch of the sole on the first trim. About two weeks after the first trim go ahead and rasp the hoof wall to within one sixteenth inch of the sole. Then continue with the one month bare foot trim schedule as described in these steps.

I have this caution statement because many horses hoof walls are allowed to grow too long between trimmings but the horse is still able to function well and seems perfectly sound and healthy. If too much hoof wall is removed in the first trim the horse may be lame or sore because the trim changed the angle or applied pressure to the sole or frog (maybe both) to quickly for the horse to adjust to the new trim without becoming tender footed or lame.

In the long run, by removing this long hoof wall you are doing the best and healthiest thing for your horse, keeping the sole and hoof wall about the same height will prevent many hoof and leg problems from developing. Just remember to take the hoof wall down to the sole over two or more trim cycles, if the hoof wall is one inch or more above the sole when you start the bare foot trim. Once you start the bare foot trim it is very important to maintain the trim on schedule to maximize the health benefits of this trim.

The growth rate of the hoof wall has many variables and I cannot accurately tell you an exact schedule to trim (Once a month is a good average). What I can say is if you want to build the healthiest hooves possible in your horses (or your clients) don't allow the hoof wall to get longer than one quarter inch above the sole (one half inch maximum) between bare foot trims. Many people neglect to follow through with trimming often enough because "their horse seems fine". This is a BIG MISTAKE to make if you want to build strong horse hooves! You've got to keep the hoof wall close to the level of the sole to build really strong WILD HORSE like hooves. It's the only way!.

Congratulations! You're done with Step 3, the hardest part of the bare foot trim.

Step 4 of the Bare Foot Trim, How To Balance Your Horse's Foot

Many “pasture” or “traditional” horse hoof trims would stop at Step 3 but not the bare foot trim. Step 4...

Step 4 is all about fine tuning the bottom of the hoof, or "Balancing”. At this point, in the bare foot trim the bottom of the foot should be rasped fairly flat down to the sole (or just above it).

Well balanced horse hoof before barefoot trimming.

Balanced horse hoof.

We want to try and balance the foot and make sure we have not left high spots. Site down the foot by holding the foot in one hand or leaving it on the hoof stand and moving your head into a position that allows you to site down the plane of the hoof wall on the bottom of the rasped foot. If there are high spots rasp them down to the point they're even with the rest of the hoof wall. BUT...

Horse foot proportions for balance

The sole of the foot should remain your most important guide when balancing the foot.

Do not remove sole to balance the foot!

At this point you are only rasping high areas that you may have missed while rasping down to the sole height in step 3.

Some (many) horses have slight deformities in their bone structure. They may have been born that way or been injured, neglected etc. My point is, if a horse has adapted to his particular deformity by growing more hoof structure in one area or another to make himself more comfortable and functional, we as Farriers should not try to change the hoof and “make it look balanced”. The best indicator, we have as Farriers, as to the horse's natural and unique correct hoof shape (balance) is the horse's healthy sole. Trim to the sole, no more, no less. Don't try to “fix” the imbalance by removing sole in an adult horse.

One of my own feet points straight away from my body the other cocks to right. I don't need special soles in my shoes to remedy this slight deformity, and I surely don't want anyone removing any part of my live foot to “straighten me out” my body has adjusted, I travel pretty well and am fairly sound.

If the quarter areas on the hoof are a little low compared to the heel and toe areas of the foot at this point, that's alright. In fact, it's good. Rasping the quarters down to the sole often leaves the quarters slightly lower than the rest of the hoof wall, this allows the foot to “flex” when the horse puts weight on the foot. (Much like the arch area of our own feet.)

Finished barefoot trim showing low quarters

If the quarters are level at this point in the bare foot trim that's OK too. They will likely be lowered some in Step 5.

Before we move on, let me tell you a little bit more about my opionion concerning trimming Bars. As briefly mentioned above I prefer to leave the bars the same length as the back of the heels (heel buttress area). Many natural bare foot farriers would probably not agree with me. I believe the bars play a support role in the structure of the foot (especially once the foot is balanced and landing heel first) and I do not want to remove hoof structure that is supporting and helping to balance the horse's weight accross the foot. Especially, not in a healthy hoof.

Back to my motto..When in doubt, take less out.

Pastern to hoof wall angle

Notice I haven't mentioned trimming the frog. That is because I don't recommend it. In a healthy foot the frog carries weight, provides traction, helps pump blood through the foot and no doubt a host of other bio-mechanical functions I don't understand. I see no need to trim the frog as it self trims by shedding itself as necessary. The only time it may be necessary to trim a healthy frog is if it is starting to shed and trapping moisture and allowing bacteria to grow as in the case of Thrush. Otherwise, I recommend leave it be.

Step 5 of the Bare Foot Trim, How To Create a Mustang Roll on Your Horse's Foot

Step 5...

Now we are ready to apply the mustang roll or rolled toe to the hoof wall. For this step of the bare foot trim you can use the rough or smooth side of the rasp to apply the roll and you will likely want to switch sides during the process of completing the mustang roll.

Before we begin, take a good look at the bottom of your clean, freshly rasped horse's foot. You should be able to see a “white line” which is actually the inside of the hoof wall or “Water Line”. The true White Line is the Laminae just inside the water line or inner hoof wall. This is important, don't get the two terms mixed up. The laminae is the hoof structure that connects the hoof wall to the Coffin Bone.

This drawing shows the structures of a horses hoof or hoof anatomy

It is unfortunate that the two names are so much alike and that the “white” part of the rasped hoof wall appears “white” and the “White Line” (Laminae) does not appear “white” at all. Just be sure you know the difference before we move on. 

Parts of a horses hoof,  horse hoof anatomy

Creating the Mustang Roll (Step 5) of the bare foot trim.... Use the rasp to “bevel” the edge of the hoof wall from the toe to the heel.

Hold the rasp at about a forty-five degree angle to the hoof wall edge and remove the hoof wall until you reach the inside (water line) of the hoof wall. Do not rasp into the Laminae (White Line).There will be more hoof wall to remove at the toe area than the quarter and heel areas of the horse's foot.

Finish by rounding the edge of the beveled angle to create a rolled hoof wall (sometimes called a Mustang Roll).

This rolled hoof wall (Mustang roll) helps promote healthy horse hooves in several ways:

1. Helps maintain the correct position of “Breakover” in the toe area of the foot. The toe of the hoof can easily grow too far forward if a proper mustang roll is not completed as part of the bare foot trim. This can lead to many hoof and horse health problems including; Navicular disease, flared hoof walls, Laminitis, cracked hooves, founder, abscess and more.

2. The Mustang Roll helps prevent chipping and cracking of the hoof wall (as well as correcting these conditions), by removing the horse's weight from the edge or point of the hoof wall. Thus, spreading, sharing and balancing the weight more evenly across the whole foot. It is this sharing of the horse's weight across the sole, frog and hoof wall that eventually strengthens the whole hoof and allows for natural balance while preventing stress in the horse's hoof and leg mechanics, naturally.

3. If applied correctly and timely the Mustang Roll helps to maintain a strong connection of the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Helps prevent flaring of the hoof wall and allows existing flares to recover or grow out of the hoof wall. Flares are areas in the hoof wall where there is a weak connection of the Coffin Bone to the hoof wall. Many hoof and horse lameness issues start with a weak White Line connection. 

Starting to rasp the  mustang roll

Step 6 of the Bare Foot Trim, How To Finish the Mustang Roll and the Bare Foot Trim

Step 6...

In step 6 of the bare foot trim you will work on the outside of the foot (not the bottom-side of the foot). So start by setting the foot on the ground. (Now is a good time to take a breather and stretch your back muscles.) You're almost done!

Complete mustang roll

If you have a hoof stand, pick the foot up slowly and give the horse time to stretch his leg out and rest his foot on the stand. If you don't have a stand you can accomplish this next part of the Mustang Roll by setting the horse's foot on your thigh.

Mustang roll, view from the outside of hoof

Find the best angle for both you and the horse to get comfortable before moving on. Just like before, move slowly, smoothly and deliberately when trying to find the best position for you and your horse.

To finish off the Mustang Roll you will simply smooth and round the outer hoof wall in towards the work you've already completed from the bottom side of the foot. You can start with the rough side of the rasp and finish with the smooth side for a clean finish.

Most of the work needed in this step will take place in the toe area of the hoof wall. Rasp this area enough to create a very rounded toe. The more blunt and round the better. Just remember not to start the roll any higher than one inch up the the hoof wall. Any higher up the wall will just weaken the wall unnecessarily. The outside of the hoof wall is the strongest part and we do not want to remove any more then necessary to promote smooth breakover, strong coffin bone/hoof wall attachment and prevent chipping and/or cracking.

Finished mustang roll

You're done! At least with one foot. The other feet, including the backs are bare foot trimmed the same way. How does it feel to have just helped your horse become stronger, healthier, happier and more athletic!

Stick with this bare foot trim and watch as your horse comes alive!


Finished barefoot trim

The “how to” steps and methods you have just read or followed on the bare foot trim are designed to maintain or improve relatively healthy horse hooves. The steps as described were not necessary designed to rehabilitate or correct existing horse hoof problems (although they will correct many hoof problems). 

The finished bare foot trim

Also, I would like to say that while I'm describing to the best of my ability my own personal recommendations and opinions based on my experience with horses both shoeing and trimming I freely admit that many of my recommendations are shaped from other people's work who have had a great influence on me. Including (Pete Ramey) who is well published ( I would certainly recommend reading his web site ), and other friends and coworkers who are not published but have certainly influenced my opinions, knowledge and recommendations.

 “Fear No Rocks” horse hooves. My personal horses are able to travel comfortably over trail less areas and remain healthy, sound and athletic. Even more so than when I kept them shod. I feel confident that your horses will greatly benefit from the bare foot trim too!

Side view of finished bare foot trim

article written by

Website Builder