Rural Heritage Village Smithy

Four-Point Trim—Help or Hoax?
by F. Thomas Breningstall

Controversial opinions are often best not talked about, but sometimes one needs to speak his piece. For me this is one of those times. Proponents of the four-point trim argue that this method of hoof trimming is the way wild horses' hooves wear down and therefore all horses should be trimmed with a four-point trim.

Before I give you my opinion, let me explain the theory (guess) behind the four-point trim. It assumes that four columns support the weight of each leg and horse. The points of support are located on each side of the hoof wall between the toe and quarters on the front of the hoof and on each heel on the rear of the hoof. According to this theory, the toe and quarters do not support weight . The toe is therefore severely rockered and the quarters between the toe and heel are cut away up to the sole. Horseshoes are on the market that mimic this trim.

The theory comes from observations of wild horses running free on the open range. The key words here are: wild horses, running free, and open range.

Since wild horses have no major lameness in the herd, the conclusion has been made that it's because of the way their feet wear. In the opinion of opponents (and me, too) the wild horse's hoof is a result of the wild horse's environment, not of any natural trimming that may take place. Wild horses living in rocky, hilly, dry and hard ground wear their toes off and break out their quarters. Fortunately the hoof grows at a rate that replaces the worn-off hoof wall, which is why lameness is rarely found in these horses.

Wild horses found in a less harsh environment, such as grass-covered damp and soft ground, have hooves much like those of domestic horses that need a trim. On these wild horses the hoof wall breaks off as it grows out. Because of the soft ground, little lameness is found in these horses, as well.

Due to the position wild horses hold in the food chain, lame wild horses may become food for a hungry predator. Horses running free on the open range need to keep on the move. They have to move away from danger. They have to move toward food and water. Did you ever wonder why a baby horse is born standing up, ready to move out within a few hours of birth? The baby needs to keep up with Mom as she seeks food and water and moves away from danger. If a lame wild horse is eaten, starves to death, or dies from thirst, that horse will not remain in the herd to be counted as a sound horse. Old wild horses that fall victim to these things and are not found are also not counted.

Wild horses breed through natural selection. Strong horses breed strong horses, sound horses breed sound horses, and so on. The offspring are as good as, or better than, their parents. Domestic horses are unfortunately bred more for looks than for conformation. Thanks to this breeding practice, the need for competent farriers continues to grow.

Another point: Although wild horses move around a lot, they never do any work. It's safe to say many of the lamenesses we see in domestic horses are because of the work we ask of them, and not from the care of a (good) farrier. We ask our horses to carry weight, pull things, and do all kinds of tricks and moves the wild horses never do.

I believe the horse's entire hoof wall, along with the frog, needs to make contact with the ground. One of the functions of the hoof's toe is traction. If you severely rocker the toe, the horse will lose traction. Furthermore, the toe will not be able to play its part in supporting the weight of the horse at a stand still or the weight-bearing part of the stride.

Besides bearing weight, the quarters are the most flexible part of the hoof wall. Without strong quarters the hoof may not be as strong as it needs to be. The heels of the hoof wall support the majority of the horse's weight. In the horse's stride, the heels land first. They need to be strong and in good contact with the quarters and toe as the weight of the horse moves over the hoof.

In a properly trimmed hoof, all parts of the hoof wall should make even contact with ground. With a properly flat-trimmed hoof the coronary band is even all the way around the hoof. With a four-point trim the coronary band is pushed up at the top of the four points—not a good thing.

The four-point trim theory is not a new idea. I have used it in one form or another on horses that had badly deformed hoof walls from disease or injury, but to say all horse should be trimmed or shod in this matter is ludicrous.

By our choice as humans, horses are in our hands to serve our wants and needs. In caring for them we must keep in check fads and foolishness as best we can. There's no such thing as one way to trim or shoe all horses. Each horse must be trimmed or shod as an individual, and each hoof must trimmed or shod as an individual.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in The Evener 2001 issue.

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14 April 2012 last revision