Science and Snake Oil in the Barefoot Trimming Debate, by Michael E Miller, MD, CJF, FWCF; softcover, 60pp. RRP $US10; contact the author docfarrier@gmail.com.

August 4, 2010

Barefoot is the buzzword these days when it comes to 'natural' horse care, but how much of the information available now is actually relevant to today's working and competition horses?

Of the methods expounded by myriad practitioners, what is "the right way" or the best way for a horse's hooves to be trimmed?

Unfortunately for the horse, as the author explains, one size does not fit all when it comes to trimming.

In this book, Michael Miller, a US farrier of some 40 years experience, first looks at the history of trimming, and then moves on to recent theories, illustrating the text with drawings, x-rays and photographs. The basic theories of practitioners such as Emery, Jackson, Duckett, Taimuty, Ovnicek, Redden, Strasser and others are discussed.

Interesting side-on images of hooves trimmed by proponents of six of the practitioners shows the differences in end results.

So which way is right?

Many students of trimming try to replicate the way wild horse studies have shown hoof wear. But, as Miller asks, what if it rains? What if the horse being trimmed doesn't live in an arid climate in which it can run for miles every day?

Even in those conditions, as he points out with photos, some wild horse's hooves aren't exactly perfect.

In the next section, Miller reports the results of his own study of the "four point/natural balance" trim, versus the "conventional" trim.

Pictures of eight of the horses who had both trims illustrate the startling differences in their hooves at the end of the study's three trimming cycles. Other horses in the study were trimmed all round in either the four-point or conventional method, and comparisons between the horses also show these differences.

Miller also noted more splits in the walls of the non-conventionally trimmed horses.

In the final section, Miller discusses how anecdotal evidence may not be a reliable source of information relating to the horse's hoof; the issue of "breakover"; and that the results of his study indicate that the four point/natural balance trim should be used only in dry environments with hard footing.

In his final say on the "natural" foot, Miller says: " 'Natural' and 'barefoot' horse care have become advertising terms used for marketing expensive weekend trimming courses, tools, and protective boots for 'barefoot' horses."

And: "Theorists who idealise a single type of unshod foot ignore the effect of footing and the environment on the morphology of the foot, and ignore the adaptability of the hoof capsule to a wide range of environments and work or riding disciplines. The unitary, idealised foot is indeed a mirage. The pursuit of any mirage ultimately leads to frustration."

'Foot' for thought for the horse owner, indeed.