The first time I saw a Paso Fino it was rapidly carrying a rather large man who was holding a saucer with a full tea cup…smoothly. I was impressed and had to find out more. What I found was that the Paso Fino was, at the same time, the first horse breed to come to the Americas and one of the last to the United States. Columbus brought Spanish Jennets and Andalusian horses to the Caribbean on his second voyage in 1493 to the Dominican Republic. Spanish landowners in the Caribbean bred the Paso Finos and their stallions and breeding mares served as the foundation stock for remount stations of the Conquistadors and spread throughout Latin America. But the Paso Fino wasn’t brought to the mainland United States until around 1945 by servicemen who “discovered” the breed in Puerto Rico.
Paso Fino means “fine step” and was bred from the Barb, Spanish Jennet, and Andalusian horse. “Los Caballos de Paso Fino” – the horses with the fine walk – were developed by Spanish landowners to give them a smooth comfortable ride as they toured their estates. These tough horses often carried 300-pound landowner “Dons” over many miles. Pasos are renowned for their energy or “brio”. Indeed, the Columbian stallion, Resorte, was reported to need 18 kilometers of ponying before he could be ridden.
Today, Pasos typically come in three or four sizes. The Puerto Rican Paso is generally the smallest and lightest boned, often under 14 hands. The Columbian Paso, the most common in the U.S., is larger and heavier, around 14 to 15 hands. The Peruvian Paso is still larger and heavier. The Mangalarga Marchador, while not officially a Paso, is a horse from Brazil that has a similar gait as the Paso Finos and has been referred to as a 17 hand Paso. I won’t go into too many details here about the breeds. The basic knowledge we need as farriers is about the Paso Fino gait.
Essentially there are three Paso Fino gaits. The Paso Fino gait is a four-beat evenly spaced lateral gait, LH – LF – RH – RF. They are ridden in the show ring across a sounding board to demonstrate the distinctive 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 beat sound. There is very little up and down movement in either the croup or the shoulder of the horse. It is known as a “swimming” gait; winging out at the front and in at the rear. The “Fino” is a short rapid step that covers very little ground. The “Corto” is a more extended gait that covers ground like a trot. The “Largo” is the most extended gait and can cover ground like a canter. What is important to know here is that these gaits are hereditary and are tied to the individual horse’s conformation.
For this article I differentiate between “Fino” and “Largo” Pasos although this distinction is not commonly used. It is only my theory.
A “Fino” horse typically has a steep shoulder angle and will have shorter length dorsal hoof walls:
The “Largo” horse will have a more shallow shoulder angle and longer dorsal hoof walls:
The more upright shoulder and shorter hoof walls of the Fino horse allow and encourage the shorter higher step. This horse will naturally take short, fast steps and be a smooth ride at slow speed. The Fino horse will be able to do a largo gait but not as fast and, if pushed to greater speed, will have a tendency to break into a canter.
The more shallow shoulder and longer hoof walls of the Largo horse encourage it to move at longer strides. Don’t expect a Largo horse to move like a Fino horse at slow speeds and the ride will often not smooth out until greater speed is reached.
Paso Finos should be trimmed at their natural angle depending on their conformation. Some Paso Fino owners will expect that their horses will gait comfortably at any speed. This is not the case and trimming to try to get that will frustrate you and the horse. Pasos are shown barefoot or flat shod so trimming is everything. Judges want to see the natural gait of that particular horse. I usually trim the hoof wall level with the sole and don’t carve the sole to take more toe. This will balance the sole to the ground and balance the hoof according to the conformation. Due to their “swimming” gait the hooves may naturally be toed out, so it should not be corrected or the gait will be restricted. Pasos typically don’t roll over at the center of the toe. The Fino horse toes will appear shorter and will naturally tend to grow more heels. Often the frog will not be on the ground. The Largo horse will appear to have longer toes and will grow more toe than heel. Paso Finos generally have nicely shaped hooves with thick hard hoof walls and nice thick concave sole. The hoof sizes are typically in accordance with the different types; the Puerto Rican Pasos have the smaller hooves and the Peruvian Pasos have the largest with the more common Columbian Pasos in the middle sizes.
A lot of care over 500-years was put into breeding Paso Finos to be naturally gaited; tough and easy keepers. Their hooves are the same. A natural trim according to their conformation is all that is needed to allow the horses to perform as they were bred.
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When I first started marketing HoofArmor I took a bunch of it to the American Farriers Convention in Ontario, CA. I thought to offer it to farriers first. I got no interest at all and most comments were, “You’re trying to put us out of business,” or “I’m going to lose money because of that.” I didn’t hear anyone thinking, “How can I make money with HoofArmor?” Someone in business should always be thinking how to make money faster and easier. The more tools in the toolbox, the better chance of success.
There are plenty of farriers making really good money at shoeing horses. At the higher levels the money is better, the horses are generally easier and working conditions are nice. There are also a lot of farriers and barefoot trimmers struggling to make a living. With 10 million horses in the U.S. and over 58 million horses worldwide, there should be no shortage of work for anyone who wants to be in the hoof care business. That’s the problem…it is a business.
There are many schools, clinics and seminars on how to do hoof care. Trimming techniques abound both in person and on the internet. Youtube has plenty…enough to confuse anyone. Some techniques are opposites. However, there are not many lessons on how to make money while doing the hoof care work. That is generally left to “On the job training.” Some make it, many don’t. Let’s change that.
The term “Lean Six Sigma” is actually two problem solving functions that use similar techniques. “Lean” is concerned with reducing waste in your work and “Six Sigma” is concerned with reducing mistakes in quality which costs time and money. Both are means of analyzing the current practice and use some formal techniques to improve.
In industry, there is a set of instructions called “Standard Work” with detailed steps and photos. There is also something called “Best Practices”. When a new “Best Practices” is discovered, it becomes the new “Standard Work”. These practices are the most efficient, cost effective way of doing whatever it is you do to make money. These practices take into consideration waste reduction of materials and motions.
All of these practices and more comprise what is known in industry as “Continuous Improvement”, realizing that there are always better ways of doing things that haven’t been found yet. Continuous Improvement works on utilizing teams of “subject matter experts”; anyone who has trimmed or shod a horse is a candidate. All ideas are welcome. Their ideas are how Best Practices are built. No one knows everything, but if there is a knowledge base to build on, it can be a tremendous resource for anyone who wants to learn more and not have to reinvent the wheel.
Our goal is to have horses successfully travel completely barefooted…no horseshoes or boots of any kind. Because of the studies of the Mustang (from the Spanish “Mesteño” meaning “wild, having no master”) hooves in the U.S. we know that it is possible. Domestic and feral horses are not different species. Only their living conditions are different. As there were no horses in North America before 1492, having all been eaten, the only feral herds of horses that are here now came from many different sources. Although DNA testing has shown considerable Spanish horse genes in the herds, the mustang herds are comprised of a great variety of breeds such as drafts, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Morgans and ponies; gaited horses and even some Curly Horses.
Again, I will say as every horse is different, so every hoof is different. However, Mustang hoof studies have shown a distinct similarity, depending on terrain. As most of the mustangs are found in arid country because no one else wanted that land, their hooves reflect the ground surface: hard, tough, compact with a thick outer covering.
Feral horses, in wetter terrain, generally have or soon develop softer larger feet to better travel in that landscape. Also, due to lack of natural wear like their desert cousins, the wetland hooves are softer so they will break off before they become too long. I won’t be referring to the wetland horses for this trim, just the desert trim that is better for stone protection. However, the wetland example can be seen in many domestic horses due to pasture conditions.
What surprised me and others was that it is reported that in over 90% of the hooves studied, the hoof wall wasn’t touching the ground and the mustangs were walking completely on their soles and frogs. Although these structures were much thicker and tougher than domestic horses, the difference from the traditional way of regarding the hoof was the exact opposite from what I had been taught. This was a game changer for me. I changed my trim as I will describe, and rather than apply HoofArmor only to the bottoms of the hoof walls as a shoe would be, I applied it to the entire ground contacting surface; primarily to the sole.
I came to realize that the sole is what is affected by stone sensitivity, not the bottom of the hoof wall where we typically nail horseshoes. I realized then that sole thickness affects that sensitivity (think of the boots vs socks analogy) and recently I became aware that the sole callus affects that sensitivity, maybe more than the thickness.
It is virtually impossible to tell where the sole callus ends and the live sole remains. Many schools teach students to carve out that sole until they reach “live sole”. This removes the callus that gives stone protection and the toe callus that helps to support the coffin bone. The horse tries to grow callus and the farrier keeps removing it and people wonder why the horse is still sore over stones, or why it can’t transition from shoes.
I was honored one evening when Mike Savoldi told me that the trim I described to him simplified what he had been teaching in his lectures. Mike was the Master Farrier at the Kellogg Arabian Center at Cal Poly for 30 years. He dissected more hooves and did more disciplined hoof studies than anyone I know and traveled around the globe lecturing on the importance of Uniform Sole Thickness for healthy hooves. I told him my trim technique was to “lift the hoof and trim everything that stuck up above the sole”. And that’s pretty much it. What that does is level the sole and therefore the coffin bone to the ground, which is what Mike taught. Here’s a link or I can send you the pdf.:
Although that sounds simple, it was developed after reading and discussing other people’s research on mustangs and my own years of shoeing and barefoot trimming observations of horses in my care. Not very scientific, I suppose, to do something and watch how the horse likes it. Horses are very subjective, not objective, but it’s obvious when they are sore.
The other research I used was Dr. Bowker, head of the Equine Foot Laboratory of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Michigan…
“Bowker’s research in these areas led to a wholly different theory of how the equine foot responds to ground impact. His research has focused on blood flow to and from the hoof, and the role it plays in energy dissipation. These study results led Bowker to believe that the modern-day horse should be trimmed so that more of the back part of the foot—including the frog—bears the initial ground impact forces and weight. His research demonstrated that if the foot was trimmed so that the frog rests on the ground, the back part of the foot would be stimulated to grow more fibrous and fibrocartilaginous tissue in the digital cushion, which appears to be protective of the more chronic foot problems.” Dr. Bowker also lectures against peripheral loading of the hoof…meaning horseshoes. Link…
The other goal I aim for in trimming is to have everything level across the back: both heels and both sides of the frog. An easy guide is that, if at all, the frog will lean toward the side that wants trimming. When the horse is standing on a level surface, the split between the heel bulbs should be perpendicular to the ground. The back half of the hoof is the heart of the foot and balance there is everything. This keeps the heel first landing even regardless of conformation.
The edges of the hoof wall on a HoofArmor trim are rolled just enough to not feel sharp edges that could chip. Mustangs have a bigger roll, but their hoof wall is also thicker. Replicating a mustang roll on most domestic horses exposes the laminae or white line as the leading edge when the hoof slides upon landing. As the laminae is the softest part of the hoof capsule this lends itself to gravels and tearing that can cause further infections. The quarters are the thinnest part of the hoof wall and are left as thick as possible. Heels should blend in with the curvature of the bars.
The bars are not designed to be weight bearing structures, but rather are supportive members that strengthen the hoof in the rear as it expands and contracts. Long bars can press on the internal tissues. Bars are trimmed so as to be passive and not bent over. In the case of desired expansion of contracted heels, the bars can be trimmed shorter to lessen their restriction on the expansion.
Another effect of this trim is that it will reflect the conformation of each individual hoof. Concerning hoof angles: I was taught to make the fronts 50 degrees and the backs 55 degrees. I soon gave that up when I saw horses being off in one foot from that trim. Now I let the hoof tell me what angle it should be and this trim will conform to that. I’ve noticed that horses with a more upright shoulder will have a more upright hoof and tend to wear the toes more, necessitating trimming the heels more. Horse with a shallower slope to their shoulders will have a shallower angle to the dorsal hoof and will grow more toe and be more susceptible to underrun heels. These are just observations over the years.
The HoofArmor trim will automatically compensate for base-wide or base-narrow horses by trimming the high side and getting the hoof back under the shoulder. This helps prevent flares and cracking from their opposite sides being out of adjustment.
The HoofArmor trim is more like Zen. You learn to read the hoof and let it tell you what it wants trimmed. You pick up a hoof with no preconceived idea of what you are going to do. The more these principles are followed, the more obvious the untrimmed hoof will look to you and the better the results will be for the horse.
I have been reading a lot lately on what is deemed more scientific farrier theory. Like often happens in this realm, there are spurts of trying to make something that should be natural into something more exact, rigid and controlled/controllable. The famous quote by Gertrude Stein, “There are no straight lines in nature,” was given validity by Benoit Mandelbrot, a mathematician concerned with mathematically describing natural phenomena as they actually are as opposed to the traditional Euclidian geometry of circles, spheres, squares and straight lines.
For many people the important question when faced with a club foot in a horse is whether to lower the heels of the club foot, or to raise the heels of the other. The more important question should be, “Is this a natural or unnatural club foot?”
There are wedge pads and wedge shoes available to make these hooves symmetrical, but should they be? How is the horse moving? Does it appear off gait? Is it lame? Is it bothered by this? Other than optically and cosmetically why is this an issue? Continue reading