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Below the Surface: A hoof trim as a covert assessment of mobility

By Klervi Dorfsman CEHCA practitioner


Trimming day for your horse can be more than just a day where their hooves get taken care of, it can also be a good gauge to check in on your horse’s mobility in a routine way.

Because a professional hoof care provider is asking hundreds of horses per month to perform the same movements, and for a certain length of time, they will subconsciously (and consciously) become aware of what a limb feels like, on average.

Even cooler, because they’ll be chatting with the owners, and maybe watching the animal move, as well as looking at hoof wear patterns, they’ll also end up noticing connections between what’s going on in the horse’s body and movement, what the feet are telling them in terms of shape and wear, and the specific way that the horse lifts and holds each of its legs.

Of course, it’s not foolproof science, and this kind of awareness is just something that grows over time slowly with experience. But there is something big to be said about feeling that many legs per day, as compared to an average horse owner who may just be putting hands on one or two horses for many years, when it comes to pattern recognition!

So how can knowing this information benefit you as a horse owner?

Well, you can harness the knowledge of your hoof care provider to your benefit! Since you’re likely going to be chatting at your appointment anyhow, why not ask some questions about what your trimmer is feeling in your horse? It gives you a baseline for each trim, so you can see if the horse is consistently mobile and strong, and this is especially advantageous in a case where a horse is older with mobility issues or recovering from an injury for example (if we see our horses every day, it’ll be a lot harder to notice longer term developments, too).

It may also end up giving you some insight into the way your horse feels under saddle, and even some ideas of what needs to be worked on.

For example, it’s common for me to come across horses that struggle to hold up their front end, but have overall good dispositions otherwise. They are not trying to be wiggly, but they don’t have the strength to hold up their body mass on one front leg. In this case, the owner would know that their horse has a very weak chest (thoracic sling) and could start reading, learning and working on the forehand’s lifting potential (and, as a side effect, the horse will become a hundred times smoother to ride, with a healthy back that lasts longer to boot!) This example is fairly obvious, but the hind end tends to be a bit less simple. Another example, once the green grass comes in, I notice that a lot of horses stiffen up in the hind end, to a more or less noticeable extent.



Because the lower joints of the hind end only have one direction to move in, whereas the hip, pelvis and back can create movements in multiple directions, the lower limbs will often take the brunt of any deviation higher up and appear to twist or be crooked. A common example would be hock wringing. Think of your knee- it can only go in one direction. It’s not possible for it to go “off track” normally, and if your movement is altered higher up, it will put an uneven, shearing, twisting force on the knee which has no choice of other directions to go in.

Of course it can be more complicated than that, especially if there is an acute injury to a lower limb. The reason this is concept is interesting to those of us working on the feet, is that the way that the hind limb moves during the trim can tell us a great deal about what is going on above, and because we’re often the ones handling the limb the most, we’re sometimes the first to notice when there is a change happening in a client’s body.

(Photo credit Christie Chomistek 2023)

The horse in this picture has a pelvis that sits at a non-neutral angle at rest. When I go to pick up his hind feet backwards, he is very tight to the medial line. If I let him choose where it is comfortable to rest his leg for the trim, he chooses to cross over the midline of his body, crossing that foot behind the other. When I ask him to bring his hind foot forward, he sets the foot way out to the side and asks me to hold it there, just as in the photo- it’s not me asking him to hold it outwards, that is his preference. It’s the same on both hind legs but to varying degrees. What this tells me, is that the whole hind end unit is not sitting in a neutral and efficient posture, and that one side is worse than the other, which is typical.

Then, I can make the recommendation to the owner to take that into account if the horse is being worked, suggest body work or veterinary intervention depending on the case, and keep that feeling in mind for the next trim so that I can tell if the horse is improving on a new regimen.

In this horse’s case, after having some body work done, he was able to be trimmed in a normal position at his most recent appointment, and the owner was delighted to see the progress, and since he is not ridden, lifting legs for a trim is a good way to see what his mobility is looking like. That is what it looks like when a whole team of professionals can work together in small ways! I don’t have the ability to do body work or vet interventions, but I can bring the awareness for those needs to an owner, when I notice outside of average types of mobility.

For the owner:

Make sure to share any changes in movement you’ve noticed with your hoof care provider during appointments, it helps them to make decisions and also adds to their subconscious pattern awareness! Also be aware that not all professionals share information the same way, and that everyone has had varying education and experiences for varying amounts of times- different terrains, sports, breeds etc, and what that means is that you will get to learn something different from each person!


Questions to ask your hoof care provider during trim visits:

  • What does the white line look like? A potential indicator of inflammation
  • What does the digital cushion feel like? Atrophied or developed? Indication for possible biomechanics failure in movement
  • How about the lateral cartilages? We cannot diagnose anything but can certainly evaluate the strength and health of these tissues, and feel for calcification
  • What do we notice about the lower limb’s mobility? E.g. asymmetry between limbs
  • Any signs of thrush? In the frog, in the white line?
  • What does the hoof wear pattern tell us, and how are the feet landing?


Having an open channel of communication between owner and hoof care professional is beneficial for creating a pleasant trim experience for the horse as well as detecting early conditions in hoof and limb health.


For those wanting more information on limb movement, The lectures from the last conference we hosted are fantastic resource:

Evolution in Whole-Horse Soundness – 2023 CEHCA Conference Videos

Also check out The Science of Motion is a good resource: