The importance of hoof care during the foal’s
first year of life cannot be overemphasized. A proper trimming
program will help determine the future shape and structures of
the foal’s foot. Trimming will also affect the hoof/pastern
axis, the fetlock angle and the joints above the foot. In this
way, it influences the alignment of the entire limb. Another
often-overlooked goal of trimming is to provide protection to
the immature structures contained within the hoof capsule and
to prevent any form of pain response. This pain response may
be responsible for the various flexure deformities
The whole limb should be evaluated not just the foot.
All foals should be brought out and stood up on a hard, level
surface. They should also be walked a few steps if possible.
This can be
accomplished by walking the mare in a straight line so that,
as the foal follows, he moves freely and in a straight line.
The standing foal should be evaluated from the front and from
the side. Looking from the front, an easy method of examining
the foal’s limbs is to place imaginary dots above and below
each joint, starting at the elbow and extending to the ground
surface. Now connect these dots with an imaginary line (Figure
1). This method allows one to determine if any abnormalities
of alignment are present and if so, where they occur. It also
shows that “toe out” or “toe in” conditions often cannot be
corrected by trimming the feet as they are caused by
abnormalities above the hoof. Any flares present on the hoof
wall are noted at this time.
When looking from the side, the hoof/pastern axis and angle of
the heel are evaluated. The hoof pastern axis may be broken
forward or broken backward and the heel angle decreased with a
low heel (Figure 2-- note the low heel angle on this two month
Watching the foal move allows examination of the limbs in
flight. One should observe how the foal’s foot contacts the
ground. For example, a foal with a rotational deformity will
land on the outside of the hoof wall first. This whole
procedure can be done in less than a minute but is often left
out of the trimming program.
When should the
foal have its first trim? We like to start at a month of age
for three reasons. First, it may be the first time the foal’s
feet and limbs are critically evaluated. The farrier usually
does this evaluation. With the knowledge and skill of many
farriers today, they are very capable. In many instances, this
exam is done by a farrier and a veterinarian who work well
together. The veterinarian should have a background and
interest in podiatry.
Second, it is important to get the foal acquainted with the
trimming procedure. This should be a pleasant yet firm
experience. It will begin the behavior habits for future
Third, at a
month of age, there is usually minor trimming that can be
performed, such as removing a pointy toe or rounding up the
hoof wall if cracks are present.
Our thoughts on trimming may differ slightly from current
practices, but are aimed at providing protection to the bottom
of the foot and building a strong hoof wall. The only tools
necessary to trim a foal are a hoof pick, a wire brush and a
rasp (Figure 3). A well-known and experienced farrier once
commented to me that to touch a foal’s foot with a hoof knife
is malpractice. Any flares are removed from the lower part of
the outer hoof wall.
surface of the foot, i.e. the sole, bars and frog are not
touched. The hoof wall is rasped at a 90o angle (Figure 4)
starting forward of the white line (sole-wall junction). The
rasp is then run around the perimeter of the hoof. This
creates a raised, tough; rounded edge that is resistant to
cracks (Figure 5). This rounded edge will protrude above the
sole. In this manner, the toe can be adequately shortened and,
at the same time, provide substantial protection to the bottom
of the foot.
Many foals at one month have a pointed toe (Figure 6). This
may cause them to break over on one or the other side of the
point. This point should be removed by simply squaring the
toe. .This is done from the outer hoof wall. The bottom of the
foot (Figure 7) shows that very little needs to be done.
A few rubs of the rasp at the heels to create
a flat heel base and squaring of the toe are all that is
necessary. Note that the frog is being sloughed, which usually
happens at about this time. It does not need to be removed as
it will come off with normal abrasion and the frog underneath
will be mature.
A foal at this age will usually have some horn growth,
depending on the footing (wet or dry). Any flares present at
this time are removed by rasping the lower part of the hoof
wall from the outside. Figures 8 & 9 show the foot before
trimming. Note the mild flare on the outside of the wall. This
can also be seen on the bottom of the foot. Using Figure 9 as
an example, the hoof wall is rasped at an angle as described
The foot is trimmed level unless any adjustment is necessary
from the initial evaluation. If one side of the foot is
lowered, it is never more than a few millimeters at a time.
The heels are rasped only until the bar is engaged (i.e.
becomes level with the hoof wall). The trimmed foot can be
seen in Figure 10. We often hear of trimming the heels back to
the widest or highest part of the frog. However, we feel that
this concept has no application in the trimming of foals.
Every foot is evaluated on an individual basis and adjustments
are made accordingly.
Figure 11 shows the foot following trimming with the flare
removed. Figure 12 shows a side view. Note the angle of the
heel in Figure 12 and imagine what the angle would be if one
tried to move the heels further back.
We can sum up our thoughts on trimming foals by saying “Only
do what is necessary, think of protection, remove nothing from
the bottom of the foot and always work the hoof wall at an
angle.” Remember that you are shaping the animal’s future.