Monday, August 27, 2012

On the "Natural" Trim

The biggest challenge facing I faced while trying to learn the skill and theory of horse trimming was actually not how to handle a rasp, though I did bleed, multiple times... no, my challenge was sorting through the rubble of contradictory information and drastically varying theories about just how the engineering marvel that is a horses hoof should operate. Understanding the science behind a method and applying common sense and logic was my only arsenal against the madness. The Mustang Roll was one of the first theories that really made sense to me, though, at first, it rubbed me all wrong.

I hate when mustangs are used to justify a theory. For instance that horses dont need shoes or blankets or grain and shouldn't have their coats or be stalled, clipped etc. etc. etc. because mustangs are sound and healthy without such things. The reason why this logic chafes me is that wild mustangs are not ridden. They are not kept on small properties. They do not naturally live in rain forests. They do not go about jumping fifty fallen logs for fun or lope a dozen circles just 'cause. In fact they dont lope much at all. We ask our horses to live in environments and use their bodies, (or not use their bodies), in ways that are completely and utterly unnatural. It is because we use and keep them so outlandishly that we have come to care for them in such an outlandish manner. However, I think it would be foolish to recognize how amazing it is that mustangs are able to maintain their own hooves, remain sound and  travel over the worst of ground with out a wince. It would also be foolish to not look at a mustangs hoof and try to understand whether the shape and natural wear pattern of that hoof could serve our own horses.

The Mustang Roll is, simply put, a natural hoof wear pattern (found on Mustangs and horses that consistently travel long distances on firm ground barefoot) wherein the outer wall of the hoof becomes beveled or slightly rounded off in shape. What's more is that the entire hoof of such horses have a common shape and characteristics with low heels, short toes, a round foot with a beveled edge and wide thick frog that makes contact with the ground (and that's only the half of it). As it turns out a mustang roll is just one aspect of a "natural" wear pattern that barefoot or natural hoof trimmers are trying to replicate in our "domestic" horses. To me the question was not whether this was true of Mustangs, there are plenty of examples of Mustang cadaver feet to prove this out, it was whether this shape, wear and overall hoof anatomy was correct for our own backyard horses (who are kept in far less than ideal environments, used for sport or left to stand.) At this point I can honestly say I havent come to any conclusions on that front. And I really dont know if I ever will because every horse has such different feet, different needs and environments and uses.

Once again the horse world has become divided between those who believe in the traditional and those who are embracing the new and "natural". Just like in horsemanship I think I'll end up falling somewhere right in between... And, as with any other horsemanship theory, I have to constantly remind myself to treat the horse as an individual, to not impose my ideas of what should work, to not fix it what isnt broken and to keep an open mind to new ideas and concepts.

As I mentioned before understanding hoof anatomy is key. I realized that I cant really explain why some aspects of the natural trim made sense to me without getting deeper in to hoof anatomy. The bottom line is that you can argue any theory if you understand all the parts. So let's look at the parts and go from there.

PS- Below is a link to a hoof anatomy website I recently found that has very clear pictures and descriptions. It is a great place to start. Happy reading!


  1. The mustang roll is important because it takes the majority of the load off the peripheral hoof wall. Excess pressure on the peripheral hoof wall pushes on and thins the coronet band- which will then produce a thin, unhealthy wall. This is why so many shod horses have crappy quality hoof walls- too much pressure on the coronet band. Read The Horse's Hoof and look up James Welz for more information.

  2. Interesting! I'd be in two minds also. Thanks for sharing!