The sole and the hoof wall react differently in a dry climate to protect itself from the prolonged dry conditions. In extended dry periods, Mother Nature hedges her bets as to when the ground surfaces are ever going to be soft again, and so she does not allow the old sole to come away, giving the hoof more protection from underneath. This has the resultant effect (Pic 1) of also allowing the hoof wall to become longer and in some cases more flared at the toe and the sides and as a result the horse’s mobility becomes very unstable.
This is where we need to intervene in order to restore the natural flexibility of the hoof. The barefoot trimmers maintain that the horse needs sole callous and they won’t remove it. However, sole callous builds up for the reasons already explained, and when it has gone too far it results in big ugly hooves and lack of mobility.
A sharp sole knife is a farrier’s necessity in all climates. The Speedy Sharpener is the perfect tool for sharpening sole knives and ideal for sharpening loop knives and is available on my website (Pic 2). However, extreme conditions call for further help.
In dry areas one way to soften the sole is to use water boots. Slip a two foot length of tyre inner tube over the hoof, fold back under the sole and up the back of the fetlock, fill with 1-2 cups of water then tape firmly around the pastern (Pic 3). Leave overnight if possible, but even an hour or two will make a noticeable difference.
Excess sole should be removed when it becomes weight bearing especially in the bar area as the bars will bend outwards and crack and become infected. When the sole is too hard and dry to be taken out with a sole knife it must still be removed, so delicately use a sole chisel and hammer (Pic 4) to get under the crusty old sole and bar and it will come away easily if it is ready to, then you can control the hoof wall length and avoid costly flaring problems, and you will still be working within nature’s requirements. The sole chisel was one of the most effective tools used by farriers in the past, but sadly it is mostly unheard of nowadays so I make and market my own (also available on my website along with nylon hammer to save concussion on both the horse and on your ears).
Trimming the hoof wall back into shape for unshod or shod preparation without first preparing the sole will make the horse bear weight on its sole and it will very soon develop bruising in that area.
I have seen countless horses in dry months with action problems where all I have had to do is remove the excess sole and overgrown bars to rectify this. The standard excuse that ‘it is too hard and dry so I will leave it there till next time’ is just not good enough for the horse.