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Equine Hoof Trim Evaluation 101
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How do I know if my horse is trimmed correctly? This is a question that has been asked of me many times over. My goal here is not to teach you how to trim your horse. Instead, my aim is to teach you to be observant of some key elements to a proper trim. I will also point out other factors which can affect the over all quality of the finished product.

Evaluating farrier work truly takes a trained, qualified individual with a solid understanding of Farrier Science. How ever, there are some key points that horse owners can look for.

There are 5 basic steps in trimming a horse. They include the following:

  • Natural Angle
  • Lateral/Medial Balance
  • Leg Length
  • Toe Length
  • Symmetry

Natural Angle

Natural Angle is where the hoof wall angle at the toe, when viewed from the side, is on the same axis/plain as the pastern. This angle, in most cases, will correspond with the slope of the shoulder as well. This angle is important. It keeps the boney Column in alignment from front to rear (anterior/posterior). The average horse (those without confirmation issues) will fall somewhere between 50 – 57 degrees. The pastern will dictate the angle. Once the hoof wall and pastern are on the same plain, a hoof gauge can be applied to obtain a numerical degree reading. If the hooves are normal, the angles from left to right should be the same with a tolerance of +/- one degree.

When trimming or shoeing, a seasoned Farrier will have a highly trained eye. For most pleasure (back yard) horses, the use of a hoof gauge or protractor is not necessary. If the horse is on level ground, a good angle can be acquired. In my opinion, competition horses should be gauged. They are under a lot more stress and require more accuracy to perform to their potential.

Lateral/Medial Balance

Lateral/Medial balance is the alignment of the lower boney column from outside to inside. Proper alignment of the boney column is very important. Misaligned boney columns over an extended period of time may cause joint, ligament, tendon or other soft and hard tissue damage. Sometimes resulting in discomfort, lameness, and or a shortened useable life span of the horse.

Check the medial/lateral balance by placing the horse on a fairly level surface. Viewing the posterior or rear of the hoof while the horse is standing square, check the hair line at the bulbs. The hair line should be parallel to the ground. If the hair line has been damaged, this may not apply. This is just a guide. If you have questions consult your farrier.

Leg Length

Leg length is determined by the amount of hoof wall removed in relation to the sole level. If one hoof is trimmed down to the dead sole level and the adjacent hoof down to live sole, you end up with two legs of different lengths. Dead sole will look dried, chalky and cracked. Live sole looks more fresh, like someone has cut through a bar of soap.

Having the leg lengths off can throw the skeletal system out of alignment. This may lead to excessive joint stress, sore mussels/stiffness and temporary lameness. Potentially resulting in disobedience issues, out of sink gates and over all poor collection. Think of yourself, If you have one foot with a shoe and the other without, you can still run. After time you may become sore in the ankles, knees, hips and back. Causing you to disengage in this type of activity. The horse is no different.

Toe Length

Toe length is one of the most misunderstood of the five steps. For many years people believed in measuring from the hair line to the point of the toe. While some individuals still confide in this theory, I believe this to be incorrect. To properly measure the toe length, check the distance from the outside of the white line to the outside of the hoof wall on the ground side of the hoof. This distance makes up the toe length and should be as close as possible from left hoof to right. In the evaluation, your eyes will do fine in gauging. If it look off, then it probably is. If the toe lengths are not close, this can affect the break over, disrupting the gate of the horse.


Symmetry is pretty straight forward. If the hoof were divided into two halves from anterior to posterior (front to back), they should mirror one another. On a bare foot horse there is only so much that can be done. If the horse has poor symmetry, shoes may benefit. Shoes will allow for better weight distribution allowing the hoof to be brought back into a better state of symmetry.

In a quick observation or evaluation, the horse should be on level ground (level as possible). Squat down at a safe distance and check by eye to see if the hoof wall and pastern are in alignment. If both hooves, from left to right, are close to the same but appear to be too steep or shallow, approach your farrier with tact and ask him to explain his intent. There may be underlying issues that he is attempting to remedy. Also squat down at a safe distance behind the horse and observe the hair line just above the bulbs. The hair line should be parallel to the ground in most cases. A professional will encourage questions and not be offended as long as it is done tactfully.

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