Category Archives: Trimming



It is important to remember that the outside is lateral and the inside is medial, and it does not make any difference if you are viewing the hoof as it is standing on the ground or if you are looking at the bottom (solar) view with the hoof in your hands. Nor does it matter which way you are facing. The outside is the outside.

So many people get it wrong by thinking that when they pick the hoof up, they have to trim the opposite side of the hoof from when it was standing on the ground – if you find it’s confusing, just mark the side of the hoof to be trimmed with a marker pen.

IF the hoof is:

PADDLING – the leg swings outwards so to correct it, trim the outside or lateral side of the hoof.

DISHING – the leg swings to the inside, so to correct it, trim the inside or medial side of the hoof.

SPLAYED (in the front hooves) – toes are pointing out, so trim the outside 2/3rds of the hoof.

PIGEON TOED fronts – toes are pointing in, so trim the inside 2/3rds of the hoof.

COW HOCKED hinds – toes are pointing out and hocks bent in, so trim the outside 2/3rds of the hoof.

BOW LEGGED hinds – toes are pointing in, so trim the inside 2/3rds of the hoof.

Trimming the outside 2/3rds causes the inside heel to land first, which places the hoof on the ground with the toe pointing straight forwards.

This principle is exactly the same if we trim the inside 2/3rds on the pigeon toed horse which causes the outside heel to land first which again places the hoof on the ground with the toe pointing straight forwards.

STANDING OUT on any hoof – trim the outside flare, which is causing it.

STANDING IN on any hoof – trim the inside flare which is causing it.

STANDING BACK on any hoof – lower the heels to correct it.

STANDING FORWARDS on any hoof – shorten the toes to correct it.

Another misconception is the difference between lowering and shortening. They do not both mean the same thing.

For the TOE – The difference between lowering and shortening the toe is that you shorten the toe from the front (when taking the hoof forward) and you lower the toe from underneath by rasping the ground bearing surface. Lowering or shortening the toe in a normal hoof result in two totally different effects.

For the HEEL – When we lower the heel we lengthen the heel. Thus a high heel is shorter in length to the toe Pic 1.

Geometry in the hoof shows that generally in the normal hoof if you lower the toe 2mm, you shorten the toe by around 4mm. And if you lower the heel by 2mm you lengthen the heel by 4mm. This is why I keep on to students to “Back off with that rasp – go gently with the rasp as once it is on the ground it is too late.”

Remember that the rasp is the fine tuning implement in your tool box.

Geometry applies all around the hoof. In the horse with long toes, If we shorten the hoof at the toe on either side (ie we rasp to control any flares) we also actually lower the hoof wall because of the acute angle of the long toes. Likewise if we lower the hoof from underneath we have also shortened the toe and narrowed the sides. Refer to diagram 2 to understand why. So we need to think very carefully and understand what we are going to do before doing anything at all.


Many horse owners have obviously experienced the long term effects of inadequate advice with regards to shoeing. Every horse must be allowed to go barefoot at regular intervals, especially young horses, so it is little wonder that many horses ended up unsound after having been shod constantly for years.

Imagine if you were made to wear your shoes twenty four hours a day every day until they wear out, and then put on a new pair and repeat this for four years – how would you feel? Shoeing is not the problem, it is the application and management and ignorance by people that causes our horses to suffer.

There is nothing better than the natural hoof. As a young stockman in the bush I worked with unshod bush horses, and most of them had developed a perfect hoof capsule to suit their terrain, which was vast and unfenced, so Mother Nature provided a hoof to suit all occasions.

However the reality of today is that we now expect the horse to sleep in a soft stable and live within a fenced off area, which effectively destroys nature’s ability to condition the hoof and make it tough, yet we still want the horse to be competitive and sound over all terrain.

Shoes provide hoof wall protection; shoes also grip far better than the bare foot. Fitting a shoe which is as light as is possible to allow the horse to complete the task, and enhance his performance is a sensible alternative to barefoot trimming if we expect to win in competition.

The chosen equestrian discipline, the comparison between the terrain of the competition and the stabling at home all need to be seriously considered. The breed of horse, the condition of the hoof, the health of the horse and the environment in which the horse is paddocked will all contribute to the ability to leave the horse barefoot or the need to be shod.

Balancing the hoof is the primary objective in shoeing or trimming a hoof. Understanding if this balance has been achieved, regardless of whether the horse is shod or barefoot, is critical for all horse owners.

The question: ‘Can I leave my horse barefoot’ depends on what you as an owner or rider want to achieve. What is your horse used for? Do you want to participate or do you want to win? If you compete to win, your horse should be shod. The average horse needs all the competitive edge that it can get.

Barefoot trimming is the latest fashion. Ask yourself why?

How many horse owners do you know who are totally happy with their farrier’s performance? I know from the number of questions I receive from all over the world that too many horse owners have farrier problems. Again – why?

I believe that the simple, basic principles of hoof balance are being lost. I see it myself everywhere, and not just in Australia. So when owners hear and read about barefoot trimming they decide that will solve their problems.

They won’t need a farrier to put the shoes on, only to trim the hooves, so they assume they will save lots of money and by doing a course they can even learn to do it themselves.

There is just one problem – If a horse isn’t properly trimmed barefoot, then no-one has any business putting shoes on it.

So where are all these farriers who are going to correctly trim the horse if they can’t shoe the horse correctly?

Many owners then find the horse still has problems without shoes, so then they decide to do a course and learn to barefoot trim the horse themselves.

That’s great in theory! But who are the people teaching at these courses?

Ask the person teaching at the course how many horses he or she has trimmed.

Ask them what their qualifications are, and if you can sight the documents.

Ask then how long they have been trimming horses

The same applies in choosing a farrier.

But hopefully he is not charging you several hundred dollars for a day for knowledge he has learned from someone else in a few weeks.

I had a recent email call for help from a woman who had purchased my HOOF-LINE and had a ten year old horse that had recently gone barefoot because of farrier problems. ‘Horse coped fine barefoot, then had a Strasser trim, and went three-legged lame a week later, refused to walk and had a digital pulse in off side fore. Vet was called. X-rays showed no bone movement, though did show slight pedal osteitis. Horse was put on two butes a day for week and improved significantly. Horse was Strasser trimmed again a couple of days ago and presented lame. I checked his feet with your HOOF-LINE and they measured up perfect. I have poulticed his foot. Should I put shoes back on him?’

My answer to her was “Shoeing is not necessarily the answer. After your Strasser trim, is the hoof weight- bearing on the capsule or on the sole?” It was weight bearing on the sole.

The poor horse! The horse should carry its weight evenly on the full hoof capsule with considerable frog pressure on the ground. I explained to her how to rasp back across the toe so that it had an even line of hoof wall. This gave immediate relief. As a guide, when you have trimmed your horse’s hoof, allow it to stand on a level dirt area and then pick the hoof up – you should see an imprint on the ground of the whole hoof capsule and the shape of the frog.

I am not blaming Strasser per se; or any other barefoot proponents. I run my ABC Hoof Care Courses myself and charge a lot for them. I offer money back now or later if participants feel they haven’t had their money’s worth. I have never been asked to pay out.

But I am not foolish enough to sell my principles of shoeing to disciples who can then go out and run courses on David Farmilo’s ABC trimming and shoeing – there is only one me and I don’t say that arrogantly. I just don’t want anyone teaching my principles inaccurately or incorrectly. I run my own courses on my own principles – I have been shoeing horses for 50 years, and I do not believe someone can learn my principles or anyone else’s and become a ‘certified David Farmilo instructor’ in 10 weeks, two weeks or whatever. I am a mentor to many farriers, and I believe this is how knowledge should be handed on professionally.


I have just come back from Sport Horse Expo in WA, followed by Equitana in Melbourne. After seeing some of the demonstrations at both places, and checking out the qualifications of some of the ‘educators’ and then coming home to a backlog of emails from horse owners clamouring for enlightenment on what is right and what is wrong, I have decided that for this article I am taking a rest and will assemble some quotes.

The following extracts are taken from my Bible, ‘The Principles of Horseshoeing’ written by Dr Doug Butler and Jacob Butler. My Bible (P3 Edition 2004) is 1000 pages of technical information about horses’ hooves. Dr Doug Butler has a PhD from Cornell University, is a Certified Journeyman Farrier from the American Farrier’s Association and was the first American Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers of England. He has taught farrier science for more than 40 years at universities, schools, clinics, seminars, conferences and conventions.

To quote Dr Butler:

The HOOF WALL bears most of the horse’s weight, resists wear and trauma, and cuts into the ground to provide traction. The thick laminated sides of the hoof tubules are primarily responsible for the hoof’s strength, elasticity and resistance to wear. Each tubule has the ability to bend or flex slightly and to compress slightly. The function of hoof tubules can be compared to the damper action of a hydraulic shock absorber located within a coil spring (somewhat like the suspension system on the front end of a car). The hoof is designed to bear weight.’

The SOLE is not designed to bear weight. It protects the coffin bone, and its cupped shape helps with traction in soft ground. The sole exfoliates when it reaches a thickness of about ¼”. The thickness of the sole is important because it protects the coffin bone from injury and fracture due to sharp projections and uneven surfaces encountered by the horse. The sole is normally arched and can support some weight at its edges. However, its function is primarily protective.’

The FROG is a pad or a cushion, a traction device and a scent gland. The frog’s consistency and shape allow it to function as an anti-concussion and non-slipping device. The frog normally sheds as a unit at least twice a year. The horse’s foot may be tender shortly thereafter. The frog in its normal state absorbs concussion from two directions. The frog acts like a rubber shock absorber of concussion force from the ground.’

That is the reading from my Bible for today.

Now, let me quote from an email that was sent to me citing a local forum on barefoot trimming. Incidentally, a horse with no shoes is barefoot, and all horses have to be trimmed whether barefoot or shod. People were starting to realise this. For 200 years the Australian Stockmen have been taking shoes off their horses to give the hooves a necessary rest, without them going lame, and furthermore they have been able to shoe them the following week if needed unexpectedly for a muster or an endurance ride. So now the barefoot enthusiasts have re-invented a ‘barefoot trim as compared with a farrier trim’. In the old days the circuses did this with smoke and mirrors.

TO QUOTE from the email which was written by a named ‘Barefoot Trimmer’:

With a proper barefoot trim, if you stand the horse on a concrete slab the
quarters will be rebated. Barefoot trimmers use the sole as a landmark for trimming. This is taken from the wild horse model. The reason being that when the horse is standing still on its hoof, the hoof is not under pressure. When the hoof is under pressure, at a trot or canter, or gallop, the hoof flexes and the wall at the quarter WILL be in contact with the ground. Also, generally barefoot trimmers take the heels down further than farriers (not always, but in general).
And of course a barefoot trimmer will be working with a view to getting the horse to walk on its frog and sole. A farrier gets the horse to walk on the walls of its hooves and that principal is generally (not always, but generally) applied to the farrier’s trim. What is wrong with a horse walking on its hoof walls…you ask? Well, for a start – Hoof walls were never designed to be walked on and they are nowhere near strong enough. If you want to see this for yourself, just take a rasp to a hoof wall. A couple of rasp runs and the wall is worn down. OK. Now take your rasp and rasp the frog. You might leave a small rasp mark but I bet you won’t be able to actually rasp the frog back. No. Its made of weird stuff and is inherently stronger than the hoof wall.’ END OF QUOTE.

Another quote from the same forum (but from a different person) was:

QUOTE: ‘One more thing. Farrier trims usually cost about $25. A barefoot trimmer
usually charges more. I charge $44 locally (including GST) and $50 (including GST) if I have to travel more than 25kms.  I do discounts for two or more horses in the one location. ‘ END QUOTE

My final quote is from my own website, from an article I posted over a year ago.

Barefoot trimming is the latest fashion. Ask yourself why?

Who are the people teaching at these courses?

Ask the person teaching at the course how many horses he or she has trimmed.

Ask them what their qualifications are, and if you can sight the documents.

Ask then how long they have been trimming horses

The same applies in choosing a farrier.





The first photo shows the end result after 18 months of regular attendance by a barefoot trimmer.

My involvement came by way of the owner’s search for answers to explain why all of her six horses were unsound for working. The history was that her horses were worked without shoes and were sound, regularly trimmed by an experienced farrier who had retired 18 months before, and it was then that their hoof soundness began to deteriorate. When I received this photo which was representative of the status of all her horses’ hooves, it was very easy to see where it was going wrong.

In fairness, this was a bad barefoot trim, and like farrier trims they can vary considerably as there are so many different barefoot philosophies.

Once we really understand the anatomy of the horse’s hoof and see how Mother Nature has evolved the hoof wall to support the horse, we can understand that there can be no benefit to the horses soundness by rasping away all the ground bearing edge of the hoof wall and expecting the horse to stand on its sole and bars and to have excessive frog pressure as seen in this photo.

Some barefoot philosophies state that the pedal bone should be parallel to the ground, and that this may be achieved by lowering the heels and leaving sole callous in the toe area, as seen in this first photo.

However the reality is that the pedal bone is meant to be between three to five degrees raised at the heel to allow for the correct expansion of the digital cushion under it. Low heels cause the digital cushion to be crushed, and heel pain is the result.

This style of hoof preparation is wrong for many other reasons; also, if the heels are too low there is excessive tension on the deep flexor tendon which will put excessive pressure on the navicular bone as well as causing the tip of the pedal bone to be pulled down on the sole, forwards of the tip of the frog, causing a flat or dropped sole, and visible sole bruising in that area.

All this is completely at odds with how nature intended it to be and it’s no wonder that this horse is lame. Someone much smarter than us designed this unique hoof capsule to bear weight evenly all the way around; if something changes that principle, the horse’s mobility is compromised, and being a flight animal he is likely to get eaten by the lions or tigers or bad tempered farriers.

So looking at this hoof in the first photo more closely, it is weight bearing on the outer edge of the sole all around, and on the bars, which have now cracked as the bars are not designed to be weight bearing. You can also see the visible rasp marks where the outer hoof wall has been bevelled away to disable the supporting hoof capsule.

Imagine that this is the only horse available and right now you need to ride him out to get help to save your best mate’s life! The horse is lame, so perhaps we can trim that sole back so it is not weight bearing – we can certainly trim those bars down to be strong and not bent over, there will be visible bruising under both these areas when we have done this, but the horse will still be lame, so if we can fit a pair of light front shoes, then we should be able to ride out for help for the best mate.

However we can’t even do that now, as all the ground bearing surface of the hoof wall has been bevelled away so there is nothing left on which to sit the shoe; all you can do is wait for the hoof wall to regrow, by then your mate will no longer be your mate.

No horse should ever be sore or unsound after being trimmed to be barefoot or shod, it should be able be ridden and worked immediately.

While I may appear to be having a go at the barefoot trimmers out there, I will also point out that there are a lot of farriers who don’t understand how to trim a hoof to be sound and unshod. The two most common errors are (1) not dressing the sole and the bars and (2) not leaving a positive hoof wall for the horse to walk on.

I feel most farriers are so accustomed to preparing a hoof for shoe fitting that it requires us to be a lot more conservative when dressing a hoof to work without a shoe.

The second photo shows what should be the set up of the bottom of the hoof to maintain soundness without a protective shoe. The bars are lower in the seat of corn area and all excess sole is removed to form a concave shape to the sole, which needs to be able to move down when it is weight bearing. The hoof wall is left about four millimetres above the junction of the sole and six millimetres above the junction of the widest part of the frog at the heels, then the leading edge of the outer hoof wall is slightly bevelled to a smooth edge to avoid chipping.

I have maintained many clients’ horses barefoot and sound this way for many years over the past 56 years, and the owners all know that when the workload causes the hoof wall to wear down faster than it is growing, they only have two options, reduce the workload, or fit a protective shoe or boot.

I keep hearing that the barefoot trim is based on the natural wild horse model, so I went to an abattoir for twenty dead legs from brumbies.

All but two of these hooves showed mild to extreme laminitis at the toes, some had sole abscesses in that area and some had bar cracks and corns, and while they did look like the example in the first photo, none of these horses had ever carried weight or could have done a day’s work without going lame, and that was confirmed by where they had ended up.

So why do we think we are helping the horse by using the brumby as the desirable model? The wild horse or brumby hooves have no relevance to our domesticated horses by today’s requirements, and the sooner we realise this the better we will be able to see what we are looking at.

Before we do anything to the horse’s hoof we must ask ourselves these two questions:

Do we understand what we are about to do?

Do we know what effect it is going to have on the horse?

If you can’t answer both of these questions 100%, stop and go find the answers.

The horse will tell you when you get it right.


Big or small it has to be hoof maintenance for all – this has always been my motto as a farrier.

However for some strange reason which eludes me, in today’s modern farriery world there seems to be a tendency to work only on selected types and breeds of horses; this is a disturbing change for us older tradesmen to understand.

The old feller who taught the old feller who taught the old feller who taught me would have been proficient enough at his trade to be able to trim and shoe any horse that was presented to him; whether it was a small pony or a tall draft horse, it was considered to be all part of his skilled trade and a demonstration of his versatile ability.

This modern trend to ‘specialise’ in shoeing specific breeds or types surely has to be doing our industry image no good, and it’s the same trend in the USA as well as in other countries.

I am of the opinion that the real cause of this trend goes back to the lack of sound education about basic hoof anatomy in our farrier training from day one of the modern day farrier’s schooling.

The anatomical structure of the hoof is the same in all breeds regardless of whether they have upright or sloping pasterns; the balance in the bottom of the hoof will thus follow those requirements to achieve a correct hoof / pastern angle; the requirements of the shoe will also be appropriate for the varying pursuits, and the only thing that changes is the size of the horse.

That only leaves one variable factor to explain why so many of today’s farriers are no longer willing to provide hoof care for all horses – they are not trained to be general farriers and to be proficient with all breeds big or small, and I believe our trade accreditation should test applicants on that general ability.

As a working farrier I am asked continually by horse owners to refer them to a farrier in their area who will work on small or large horses and the reply all too often comes back ‘No, that they will only work on quiet horses between 14hh to 16hh, and are not interested in miniatures or Clydesdales or racehorses or any different breeds.’

I was always taught to lead by example so anyone who has been under my tuition learns to provide hoof care to whatever equine is on the list for the day and may include standardbreds, thoroughbreds, Spanish horses, Clydesdale broodmares and Clydesdale stallions, minis, foundered ponies, donkeys and so on. Being versatile is the only sure way to learn.

From an early age the Clydesdale breeder or owner has a specific idea as to the horse’s future role, whether it is showing in hand or cart and saddle work.

For traditional showing, the Clydesdale horses are required to have Scotch Bottom shape, ie the fronts are egg shaped on wide sides and flat toes. The hinds must be toed out with straight medial walls and flared lateral heels to encourage the hocks to touch when standing.

Both of these styles fall within my principles of balance on the HOOF-LINE ruler regarding the 19mm reference point on the frog.

The egg shaped fronts measure shorter at the toe and the heels because of the more upright style, and the hinds measure equally from the toe to the medial heel with the lateral heel being higher and shorter to enable the horse to stand cow-hocked.

The Clydesdale under saddle or cart work has normal shaped hooves so my HOOF-LINE is used in the normal way.


Little horses and miniature horses have all the same working parts as their big cousins, including their hooves. Their tiny hooves are just as important to them as a working horse’s hoof, and it is equally important to shape and balance them correctly when trimming to avoid stress problems.

When trimming the hoof of a little horse, the farrier has to be respectful of their height, as the farrier’s normal working position is obviously way too high and is just not comfortable for them, so it is necessary to adapt a position to suit the comfort zone of the patient to begin with.

As is the case with all horses, prevention is better than cure so it is vitally important to begin a hoof care programme as early as is possible. From as early as three weeks old if those tiny hooves are left unchecked they can begin to alter a straight leg into a bent leg, so they must be trimmed to be level.

We must understand that these little horses don’t have the body weight above to wear away the hoof wall down below and if we are not vigilant with trimming, those tiny hooves become long in the toes and the heels begin to roll forward and roll under very quickly.

The same principles apply as with big horses; the end result of a correctly trimmed hoof is that it must achieve a parallel hoof pastern angle and the frog should be in ground contact.

At Melbourne Equitana some years ago, I appeared as an educator and demonstrated hoof care principles on a different horse each day. I was approached by the owners of some miniature horses who had some queries about trimming their hooves, so I suggested that I could use them for the final demonstration.

There were three horses; the stallion, the mum and the baby. I was wired for sound, and talking to the audience about what I intended to show them. The rubber matting on the floor of the demonstration enclosure was wet with their urine, and the baby was slipping, mum was getting rather agitated and all three horses were moving around me. I picked up mum’s leg and proceeded to trim her while demonstrating to the audience how to stand while trimming and then showed the trimming procedure on the front feet. There were lots of chuckles from the audience, which I assumed was because it looked rather funny watching such a little horse having its feet trimmed. After referring to mum as ‘her’ at least 15 times, I moved to the back feet, and realised I had been trimming the stallion. For someone over six feet tall it’s a bit hard to see the finer details. Oh well, we all make mistakes.

(Footnote 2014 – I now use a mini trimming stand, made by an engineer client of mine who owns a mini and understands the logistics of trimming minis. It is demountable, portable, has an access and exit ramp and the two panels on each side can be removed progressively to trim each leg.

The minis love it and really seem to enjoy their elevated view of the world. Some of the smaller ones’ hooves are only 25mm from toe to heel, so my HOOF-LINE ruler does not work on them as it isn’t calibrated to that level. However if you trim the toes to stop any flaring at the toe, and keep the heels down low enough to engage some frog contact with the ground, you will be helping them.


A Shetland pony that to all intents and purposes looked as if it had foundered in the hind feet was brought to one of my early clinics. The front feet were fine which didn’t seem to be logical as most ponies will founder in the front feet first, seldom just in the back feet. If you look closely at Pic 1 you will observe from the nipper marks that someone had attempted to just trim the toes. The story was that two farriers had in fact visited this pony a month or two apart, and the last one was only two weeks before the pony was brought to me.

On inspecting the pony’s feet, I found that none of the sole had been trimmed out, none of the frog had been trimmed out (refer Pic 2) and the pony was actually walking on the bulbs of the heels. On quizzing the owners, this pony had been like this for eight or nine months, in desperate need of hoof trimming and through complete lack of understanding of the horse’s hoof, neither of these farriers had been able to resurrect the hooves for the pony and had in fact told the owner that the pony had foundered beyond repair. They had both been paid for what they had done and the owners had been left anything but satisfied. The owners had then had the feet x-rayed, and found that there was no rotation of the pedal bone which gave me great hope.

In front of a class of 12 people, I then began to clean out the sole and pare the frog back. I found that there was about two inches of excess hoof wall at the toe which then allowed me to cut the heels down enough to achieve frog contact with the ground, thus restoring the pony’s feet to normal in one trimming (Pic 3)

This resulted in amazement from the class participants, tears of joy from the female owner and understandable anger from the male owner at the performance of the previous farriers. I then warned the owners that it would take a few days for the tendons to become accustomed to their new position and the pony should be rested. An email from the owners a week later stated ‘….we learned so much, but best of all is the complete turnaround of Cuddles. She is running around with real joy! In fact she has become extremely cheeky.’


The donkey’s hoof differs quite a lot from the horse’s hoof. The donkey’s hoof pastern angle is broken down; that is the natural and the correct way of the donkey’s hoof.

From the sole view, the conformation of the donkey’s hoof also differs from the horse’s hoof; where a horse’s hoof capsule is ideally an even thickness all the way around, a donkeys hoof capsule is thicker at the toe. But the buttress of the heel of a donkeys hoof actually ends further forward from the critical junction of the frog back at the heel.

The donkey’s hoof/pastern angle is not in line (not parallel) as in the horse. P3 is much more upright and so the centre point of balance is actually at the active tip of the frog (in other words it is 19mm further forwards than in the horse).

My HOOF-LINE is not calibrated for donkeys, but can still be used accurately for donkeys by placing the BOTTOM of the triangle on the TIP of the frog! Trimming the hoof to a 50:50 measurement from toe to heel from that pint will leave the heel buttresses at the correct height while allowing the frog and the heel bulbs to do their work as traction devices.

In the donkey’s foot, the bulbs of the heel are much more pronounced than that of a horse, and this is why the donkey frog is set back much further than the point of balance of the horses foot. The donkey relies on this bulb, (almost like a camel’s foot) to act as a traction device, or a cushioning device for hard terrain.

So to achieve the correct hoof pastern angle on a donkey is a little more difficult than on a horse, because the actual junction of the widest part of the frog is a lot further back than the actual buttress of the heel that the donkey needs to walk on.

And in all cases, you will find that the heels of the donkey’s foot are left longer to achieve this correct donkey-footed or broken hoof pastern angle.

The danger here in trimming a donkey’s foot, much like trimming a horse, is that because these side walls come back very straight; IF we leave the hoof too high, they tend to flare out.

So it is still very important to control the flares in the heels of the donkey’s foot.

Also, if you leave the heels too high, the front of the donkey’s foot tends to flare forward, and this thickness tends to become huge, then you get hoof wall separation, and seedy toe.

The donkey has been introduced into our country, and walking on soft ground is not ideal at all – a donkey is a beast of burden, it is suited to an arid climate where the ground is hard and rocky and in that terrain the angles wear down exactly as nature intended.

In our milder climate, especially in Southern Australia, there is no hardness on the ground to wear the donkey’s hoof down. The danger here is that these heels grow up too high, the toe grows down too long, and the heels begin to flare out sideways, and become very unstable.

To trim a donkey’s hoof, you need very few tools.

You need a sole knife – there are dozens of different styles on the market. There is a flat bladed knife – it is sharpened on both sides for cleaning out the dirt on the sole. There is a single bladed knife, which is right handed, but you can also push it with your left hand to clean out the sole. It has a little loop at the end to get in down along the side of the frog to clean out the channel. There is a loop knife which is short in the blade and long in the handle, so that you can get a lot more pressure in the blade and a lot better control. A good loop knife is a lot more expensive, but it does give a lot more advantage over the other knives, where those blades are actually too long to get a lot of pressure on the blade

All these knives can be sharpened, and they should be sharpened regularly to make them easier to use.

You also will need a rasp and handle.


Now, this donkey lived in very soft pasture, and the owners were totally oblivious to his need for hoof care until it was too late, and the feet could not be resolved.

The donkeys hoof grows at the same rate as the horse’s hoof, and should be attended to every 6-10 weeks, depending on the type of terrain.

Most donkeys need to be tied up with a very short lead rope in order to trim their feet.

They are creatures of habit, and not many donkeys will give their hoof willingly like a horse, but they will allow you trim their feet under sufferance as long as they know that they can’t get away.

The occasional very domesticated donkey can be cross tied in a shoeing bay just like a horse. Some will allow you to trim without using any restraint, but this is rare.

One particular donkey had to be tied up short, and as I lifted his first leg, he threw himself on the ground, still tied up, with all four feet in the air. He didn’t struggle, and allowed all four feet to be trimmed, groaning the whole time, but without so much as a kick. But then he would refuse to stand up until he was not only untied, but had the halter removed. He was so unique that he had his own special chapter in my first book.

He was never unhappy to see me the next time, but he always went through exactly the same format.


Over the years as a general farrier, I have been called upon to perform hoof care on these gentle extensions of many families, and have always viewed the task as being very character building.

We have not done the donkey any favours by introducing them to the wet climate of the hills areas with the lush improved pastures which were great for dairy herds, but not really ideal for horses or donkeys.

So to start to understand the impact these factors have on the hooves we need only to clearly understand that because we have taken the donkey out of his natural environment, which was for the most part dry and stony country, and which allowed the hoof to be worn down naturally, we then have to provide him with regular hoof care to compensate.

The hoof growth rate of a donkey is the same as a horse which is about half an inch every six to eight weeks, so to leave his feet unattended for months causes great discomfort and reduces his mobility dramatically.

The leg bone structure of the donkey is very light and they tend to have a very upright hoof pastern angle, this means that they always grow more heel than toe, which means that regular hoof trimming is a must to avoid contracted frog syndrome or contracted heel syndrome.

Our highly improved pastures with lush clover and rye grasses also don’t do the donkey any good. If you notice your donkey beginning to develop that ‘double bum’ look and beginning to get thick in the neck or mane area, please take him off the pasture, put him into a dry bare yard and feed him meadow hay until he loses weight.

Grass founder in donkeys affects those tiny hooves in such overweight cases, and once the hoof capsule has distorted it is extremely hard to get it back to normal again.

The accompanying photos are of Adelaide Hills donkeys and this appears to happen far too often. Sadly they were beyond repair.

Hoof care is your responsibility and you as an owner must lift up and inspect your donkey’s feet regularly, then when it is time to call the farrier for hoof trimming there should be no dramas with behavioural problems, and the job can be completed properly. It is my opinion that all owners should seek to gain the knowledge to be able to carry out their own donkey’s hoof maintenance and trimming, and club workshops or clinics would be of great benefit to all.


I haven’t come across too many mules in Australia. The mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse; the mule stallion in infertile. Much rarer is the hinny – the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey.

The hooves of a mule can be either donkey footed, or like the horse, or somewhere in between so trimming the mule is open to interpretation.

Wendy is an appealing mule who was brought to me recently for trimming, and she was easy and amiable about having her feet trimmed. Her hooves wore down very quickly so for the next appointment her owner decided she really needed shoes for trail riding.

The front shoes went on without too much difficulty. However when it came to the back shoes, Wendy was not having a bar of it. An hour later, with one hind shoe fitted and after Wendy’s back foot had whistled past my ear one too many times, I called it quits.

I had exchanged several emails with an enthusiaastic mule packer (trail rider) in Canada some years ago and his philosophy was ‘A mule will be your best friend for 40 years while he waits for that one opportunity to kick your head off.’ Point taken.