The feral horse has no need of horseshoes nor trimming. Through natural wear and tear and the well-tuned mechanism of the horsehoof, such things are unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the domestic horse is rarely subjected to the intense wear and tear of the feral horse; however, this does not mean that the hooves are in need of extra protection – supposedly provided by the ubiquitous horseshoe – rather that the natural wear and tear of the feral horse needs to be emulated.
Traditional farriers trim hooves in preparation for shoeing; in most cases, they will apply exactly the same techniques when trimming unshod hooves. This does not emulate the feral hoof in any way but rather maintains the unfavourable configuration of the shod hoof.
Firstly, the configuration of the shod hoof is an artificial shaping of the hoof to conform to the horseshoe. There is no account taken of the the action of the frog, the heel bulbs, the digital cushion nor even the function of the walls of the hoof; the hoof is merely cut as if for shoeing which means the hoofwall remains protruding out below the sole and the frog is trimmed back to a neat V shape.
Secondly, the angle of the foot, when trimmed for shoeing, is akin to wearing high heels. As almost any woman will be able to tell you, walking around on high heels for any great length of time is not conducive to comfort, let alone healthy ankle, knee and hip joints, not to mention the back problems they often cause. Added to this, the coffin bone (the bone in the hoof) is raised at the heel putting pressure on the toe-end. We will encounter this problem again when considering the treatment of laminitis or founder.
The hoof wall is not a weight-bearing structure. Its design and that of the foot as a whole dictate that anything else is a completely false concept. Under the external structures of the foot, the hoof wall, sole, frog and heel bulbs, are three principle structures: the coffin bone (P3), the digital cushion and what we will call the peripheral cushion. The coffin bone is designed in such a way as to give support and balance – support at the rear and balance at the front. The digital cushion lies under the frog and the heel bulbs and forms a shock damper to absorb and store energy generated by landing. The peripheral cushion is a minimal structure that remains unmentioned in text books and yet is clearly visible in all dissections of hooves. The peripheral cushion is there to provide minimal damping in the periphery of the hoof during ground contact. It is this minimal structure that bears the brunt of impact when a horse is shod. The hoof wall is a protective structure encasing the coffin bone and at the same time acting as an important touch sensor.
A common result of leaving hooves unshod, is chipped edges and splits in the hoof wall. Particularly the latter is the most favoured argument for (re)shoeing a horse; “the shoe will protect the hoof wall from chipping and particularly splitting.” Sadly not so; the fitting of a shoe entails driving nails up into the white line and out through the hoof wall weakening both structures – don’t forget, the white line is the point where the hoof itself is bound to the underlying coffin bone. When we carry out a simple farriers’ trim – the “prairie trim” – we take no account of the function of the hoof wall. (Why should we? The main reason for the trim is to apply shoes!) Furthermore, the simple expedient of leaving the walls long allows bacteria to invade the separation that forms in the white line; this is a self-perpetuating problem since the bacteria eat their way into the fissure, making it larger and allowing yet more bacteria invade… Taking into account that the major impact surfaces of the hoof are the frog and heel bulbs, and not the hoof wall, then simple excision of the bacteria through the application of a hygienic trim will put an end to this problem. A hygienic trim is none other than removing excess hoof wall and cavities.
The “Nature Conscious Trim” is probably better described as the “scientifically motivated trim” taking into account the biological makeup of the hoof and how it developed according to the laws of physics. The approach is one of (relatively simple) bio-mechanics, proved by scientific study.