Is Patience a Virtue?

Copyright 2011 by Maureen Tierney (


I don’t know what it is exactly, but since I’ve been trimming I’ve noticed that people WANT to do more than they have to when it comes to trimming hooves.

When I first started trimming, back in 2001, I didn’t really understand the foot/hoof capsule or their relationship to each other. I wanted to ‘fix’ my horse’s problem. I stumbled over Jaime Jackson’s book, ‘The Horse Owner’s Guide to Natural Hoofcare’, at the Loveland, Colorado Public Library. Then I did what it seems all barefoot enthusiasts do – I went online to find out more.

Unfortunately, at that time everyone was talking about the necessity of trimming the bars, heels, and sole. And so I trimmed them. Thankfully, I was fearful of going too far, so didn’t make my horse as sore as I could have. Still, I noticed that I wasn’t making progress. Because I was not making progress, I believed those who said I needed to trim more. Clearly I wasn’t taking enough heel, bar, sole. I am not proud of the fact that I started soaking my horse’s feet so I could trim more sole and bar. Thankfully, I only had the one horse!!

After 5 months, I was very discouraged – I didn’t see any significant change in my poor horse’s feet – nor was he any sounder. Though he wasn’t any worse, a fact for which I am grateful beyond words now. On a very popular barefoot forum I was told that I still must not be trimming enough.

I was extremely fortunate in that, many years ago, when I was working with racehorses, the trainer who taught me shod his own horses. Always insatiably curious I had paid close attention and eventually even gotten him to show me how to do it. Further, his horses stayed sound and raced for years, especially those he bought as yearlings. They frequently had gone without shoes – in fact any time they were not racing they were barefoot. In short, they had good feet. Having seen those good feet, and ridden one of those barefoot horses all over town, over every terrain, without issue, I knew barefoot worked. I also knew that trimming had not been very hard work. Deep inside I knew I was doing too much.

As I so often do, I listened to my gut. I stopped trimming my poor horse altogether. Clearly I was doing something wrong. I was not going to continue doing something that was clearly not working. Evidently, this is where I differ from other people in my view of patience. While I kept hearing that progress could take years, I was not willing to wait that long. I wanted to see progress NOW. And I did – only a few weeks AFTER I stopped trimming. That was when I really started learning.

I started doing less. In fact, I bought a second horse, and as an experiment – I did nothing! With great results. See photos below of Huey Experiment.)


August 5th, 2002

This was the first photo I took – but not the original condition of the foot – I just didn’t take a first photo as the idea for the experiment came when I took this one. Note my comments that this already shows a large improvement! 

The photo shows overgrown bars, false sole, a deformed frog and forward heels. This was just after I purchased Huey – he had not had hoof care in years as far as I know.


August 22, 2002

This is the second photo – taken only 17 days after the first. Already the frog looks better, the false sole is gone, the bars are reduced.


Sep 2, 2002 

Less than a month after the “experiment” began, this foot is has transformed. The bars are in normal position – though slightly long by some standards. The sole is concave, smooth, and clean. The heels have come back on their own and are standing above the sole and if I were trimming this foot – could be trimmed at this point to very close to a normal position. The frog has improved even more.

While I learned from my horses, and experimented on my own, I also continued to study what others had to say. I bought Jaime Jackson’s initial video. I went to a Martha Olivo clinic – not that I believe in her method – I DON’T – but her anatomy presentation was phenomenal. I bought two of Gene Ovnicek’s videos, and KC LaPierre’s first video. I bought KC’s book. Later, I bought Pete’s book. In 2006 I went to one of Pete’s clinics. I bought two more of Jaime Jackson’s videos and I bought KC’s dvd set. I enrolled, briefly, in the AANHCP, but was very discouraged by what was being taught and dropped out. I bought Pete’s 10 dvd set, 'Under The Horse'. And I continue to study what is out there even today. Did I say I was insatiably curious?

I think my curiosity makes me a good trimmer. Everything we do – and don’t do – has an effect on the foot. Being curious, I pay attention to the smallest details. I have learned from the horses – and their feet – that the foot tells us what it needs. And what it doesn’t need. Which is equally important – if not more so. Most trimmers are guilty of doing too much – and worse, too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing.

Below is a series of photos taken by a person I coached via email. She was desperate to help her horses and had been online, etc. The advice was always the same – trim the heels, they are too high. When she contacted me the very first thing I told her was to LEAVE THE HEELS ALONE. Bless her heart – she did. You can see the result for yourself. In a very short time the sole trimmed itself, the heels came down and back, and the hoof was transformed. (For details on how this works, watch for my upcoming article on Heels – Leave Them Alone and They Will Come Home!)

This is the same foot from April 2008 (far left) to July 19, 2008 (center) and July 22, 2008 (far right).

During this entire process the heels were not trimmed other than to lower them once dead sole was removed, and then they were not ever taken down to sole level. In 3 months this foot basically transformed itself. This is true “natural” barefoot trimming. The foot is the Right Hind. This foot was trimmed by the owner, following advice based on the photos.

The first photo shows a frog buried in inches of excess sole, and far below the hairline where it belongs, along with bars that ARE the sole, and heels that are at least 2 and half inches too long. The center photo shows the foot transforming ITSELF – as the excess sole can now exfoliate because the toe has released its deadly pull on the heels. The photo on the far right was taken after sole removal, but before the wall and heels were trimmed, and shows a normal healthy frog close to the hairline, no excess bars, and heels that will be back at the rear of the frog once trimmed.

I want to emphasize again that I am impatient. I cannot tell you how many trimmers and barefoot horse owners I’ve talked to over the past 10 years. They all want results. Yet they do the same thing for months and even years (common), and get no results. That is a kind of patience I do not have. The patience I do have is to wait for nature to heal the foot. For that is what truly happens. We as trimmers do not really fix anything. We can only help the foot by removing what the horse cannot remove on its own, and leaving the rest alone. Yes – leaving it alone. For some reason a large number of people find this extremely difficult. But my advice is to do less and achieve more – faster. MUCH faster. In my experience, with many thousands of hooves, this method works every time.

I must state here that there have been four instances when the results I wanted (as did the horse) could NOT be achieved. In the first of these, the horse was missing a large portion of her coffin bone. Even so – the hoof underwent transformation (see photos below) but only to a point. The horse had been foundered – and shod – for many years, and I suspected coffin bone loss. When radiographs confirmed my suspicion, she was euthanized to end her suffering.


The first photo was taken before the first trim on 7-25-06. It’s clear this horse is in serious trouble. Hoof height at the front of the coronary band was probably an inch. That alone made me sure there was bone loss. However the second photo, taken 4 weeks later, shows a much better picture. The angle of the hairline is better – not pointing down at the front! And the growth at the top of the hoof is in a good direction. Hope blossomed. The third photo taken 10-10-06 shows a normal back of the foot, good hairline angle, relief of the excess toe to reduce leverage on the laminae. But this was as good as she ever got. Since she had so little coffin bone it was impossible for her to sustain normal hoof growth. The x-ray (click here to open) is marked up and seems to be one on top of the other. Since the owner was grieving I did not ask for a more clear image. If you show the image at 100% the coffin bone can be seen to the left of the outlined one – to be virtually non-existent. And that was the left front – not the right front pictured above – which, according to notations on the x-ray was worse.

PLEASE NOTE: Even as dire and long standing as this horse’s situation was – her foot responded immediately to a correct trim. The foot is always ready and waiting to heal itself – no matter the circumstances. It does NOT take years.

The other three instances were much more heart breaking to me – because it was only the owners’ refusal to follow my advice that prevented the horses from achieving a full recovery. These owners refused to change their horses’ diets. One horse was nearly back to normal – sound, happy, hoof form coming along – and then spring came and the owner would not keep her off the grass, so she refoundered. Another was nearly 100% recovered as well when the owner switched hays – back to the one the horse considered to be candy – and then that mare too refoundered. The third was virtually the same story. Three horses who had become sound and were on their way to recovery but their owners’ unwillingness to keep them on a diet – and not a starvation diet – took precedence over the horse’s actual well being.

There is not a trim in the world that can make up for a diet too high in sugar.

After watching so many horses I’ve come to some conclusions regarding trimming. Conclusions that have been proven valid since the results are consistent and predictable.

First – the toe is the main problem. The majority of horses do not get enough exercise on abrasive enough ground to keep their toes maintained. As the toe grows, the hoof capsule becomes distorted, the heels are pulled forward, the sole thins and loses concavity, the heels begin to contract, the frog becomes weak, and separation of the hoof wall from the laminae will result to one degree or another – dependent on diet, toe length, and other environmental conditions.

Second – the frog is seldom truly healthy. This is a major reason why many horses seemingly cannot go without shoes. The frog should be wide, tough, without deep creases or any cracks, and should fill a good portion of the solar area.(See photos below.) Why frog health is so overlooked – even by vets - is a mystery to me. Skinny, weak frogs are NOT normal. They are a sign of either infection, really poor environment, lack of movement on the part of the horse – or all three.

Bad frog

Healthy Frog

Which frog do you think your horse would rather walk on?

When you see a truly healthy foot, it’s quite apparent that most are not healthy. How many feet have you seen that look like the one on the right?

Third – leave the heels alone. The heels will take care of themselves as the toe returns to where it belongs. Compare the two images below – one is a foundered foot, the other is a normal foot. Can you tell which foot is the foundered one? No – because the heels are NOT the problem. 


Compare the next two images – easy to tell which is which – and where is the problem? The toe. 

Foundered hoofNormal hoof

Can you see that the angle of the coffin bone is the same in each photo? There is no rotation of the coffin bone – the rotation is of the hoof capsule AWAY from the coffin bone. So easy to see – why is it not recognized by the majority of vets? Another mystery.

I differentiate the horse’s foot from the hoof capsule (hoof wall and sole). The internal structures of the horse’s foot (lateral cartilages, digital cushion, frog corium, laminae, blood vessels, etc) all have a very specific purpose. The hoof is intended to function in a very precise way. For those who want to read more – click here.

To me, the hoof capsule is a bionic shoe produced by the foot. If there is a problem with the “shoe” (or perhaps “hoof boot” would be a better analogy) the foot merely has to replace it. That is the job of the foot – not the hoof trimmer. The trimmer’s job is to keep the “boot” from becoming distorted and subsequently damaged. If the boot has already lost its shape, it’s the trimmer’s job to get the bad areas out of the way so a new boot can grow in with the perfect fit.

I tell my clients that a trim should mimic the effects of the ground on the hoof. What would the ground do if the horse were living where the ground was abrasive and hard?

So have patience and trust that the foot knows its job and is only waiting for help to heal itself and grow a healthy “boot”. Then be impatient – it does not take years!!




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