July 1999


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 encountered.

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. Fig 1This 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. Fig 2

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 old colt).

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.

Fig 3When 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 farrier care.

Fig 4Third, 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. Fig 5The ground 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.


One-Month-Old Foal
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.

Fig 6 Fig 7

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.

Fig 8

Two-Month-Old Foal
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 previously.Fig 10 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.


Fig 11 Fig 12

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.


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