The Frog – How We Trim It
It’s essential if you are keeping your horse barefoot that you are able to recognize a healthy frog.
This might seem easy, but it still took ‘my eye’ quite a while to really appreciate what a healthy frog should looked like. I had been so used to seeing dried up and ill functioning frogs, so although we were trimming and riding barefoot horses, there was still plenty of room for improvement.
Some were still too small, too contracted, too dried up and not functioning to their full capacity.
Why Are Healthy Frogs Important?
Healthy frogs are absolutely critical in order to have soundness in the back of the hoof, and soundness in the back of the hoof means that the horse can have “heel first landing”, i.e. for the heels to land first on the ground, which is essential for the health and proper function of the hoof.
The frog is a shock absorber. In other words it absorbs the shock that comes from every step taken by the horse. It is the softest part of the hoof and acts as a hinge allowing the expansion and contraction (the opening and closing) that occurs in the hoof with every step that the horse takes. The hoof expands and descends as it lands and contracts and lifts as it comes off the ground.
This is better known as the “hoof mechanism”.
What Should a Healthy Frog Look Like
The frog should be wide, flat, smooth and even. Think of a pad on a cat or dogs paw. The frog should have a visible groove down the middle which is the central sulcus.
A horses hoof should be shaped in a way that allows the frog to get firm contact from the ground, which is what it so desperately needs. For this to happen the frog and heel bulbs should be at the same level. You can check this by resting your rasp across the base of the frog and heels and see the height of the frog in relation to the heels. If the heels are a lot higher than the frogs then you need to read our post on heel height.
Once frogs are healthy they are able to maintain themselves very well.
An Unhealthy Frog
If the frog is not having ground contact you will then have poor circulation in the hoof, which then creates contracted hooves due to the severely reduced blood supply to the hoof.
This reduced blood flow creates slow growth, slow healing, poor hoof development, thin walls, poor horn, and the hoof will have poor resistance to thrush. The frog will look narrow and dried up, think of a dried up mushroom, and the central sulcus will be deep and narrow, a perfect place for thrush to develop.
If the frog doesn’t look as smooth and even as the pad on a cat’s paw, it is most likely to be infected with thrush. This will then make the back part of the hoof sore and the horse will stop using the frog as it is supposed to and will start walking on its toes.
The Height of the Frog in Relation to the Hoof and What To Trim
The tip of the frog needs to be at the lowest point of the frog, then it slopes upwards and the last 1/3 needs to be the same height as the heels.
If the tip of the frog is too high compared to the level of the trimmed hoof wall, (if you are unsure, you can check this by putting your rasp across the frog and see if your rasp is pivoting on the frog,) then you can trim this down, so it is passive to your rasp.
Keep in mind that frogs can bruise if protrusions are sticking out so trim these if necessary. You are looking for a reasonably flat plain, but for the frog still to be sloping upwards towards the heels.
The last 1/3 of the frog you need to trim this as little as possible. Just tidy up and remove any loose scraps where thrush could harbour, but remember it is this part of the frog that so desperately needs ground contact, and it is this contact that is so important for the expansion of the hoof, so do not over trim.
If the frog is above the sole plain at the back of the hoof be careful not to just remove this as if you leave the frog it then becomes denser, thicker, harder and more calloused which is your goal.
With a set up trim, (i.e. a first barefoot trim either, after shoes have been removed or after no recent trimming), you may need to trim the frog, but thereafter you may need to do very little trimming, and just watch as the callousing of the frog develops.
With hygiene issues, i.e. preventing thrush. If you leave flaps and leave the central sulcus closed you are likely to create a breeding ground for thrush. So any flaps overlying the collateral grooves, remove these, as well as any flaps overlying the central sulcus.
If you are unsure, leave more than less.
Just remember that the harder the outer calloused shell of the frog becomes the better.
The Overall Length of the Frog
The length of the frog from its tip to the very back of its most widest part should measure 2/3 in length of the overall length of the hoof, measuring from the widest part of the base of the frog to the outer wall. This is a basic guideline.
The frogs will move forward if the heels go forward, the frog will also move forward in a founder horse.
The central sulcus allows maximum amount of independent movement of the heels, keep the central sulcus clean and clear at all times.
Thrush in Frogs
If you put thumb pressure on the back of the foot and you are able to hurt your horse and cause a physical reaction because he is sore here, then this needs to be addressed and the most likely thing that is causing this discomfort will be thrush. If he has thrush and is sore at the back of the hoof, the horse is going to land on his toes which will then create wall separation which then prevents the development of a hard calloused sole.
Pete Ramey says about thrush,”To beat thrush we need to outrun it, i.e. to increase the growth of this material faster than thrush can eat it.”.
What stimulates the growth of the frog material is pressure and release, in other words movement. The more movement the better, but obviously working within the comfort boundaries of the horse. This does not mean being too hard or too soft. Movement is what is going to help your horse, so if he is sore then slow walking in hand, but no walking will only slow the healing time.
Stimulation of the frog is much more important than any chemical you put on the thrush. Boots and pads can also help get stimulation to the back of the hoof when the horse is being ridden or walked in hand. Chemical stuff can kill thrush, but can also kill living tissue. We have only ever used Apple Cider Vinegar, or Traumeel Gel for this very reason.
So if you keep these notes in mind you will be well on your way to knowing how to manage and trim your horses frogs.
When I am trimming and doing any work on the frogs, I am mostly using my hoof knives but I sometimes find my angle grinder is easier to use when trimming and keeping the central sulcus clear and open.
A Healthy Frog
Above is a picture of a healthy frog. Notice the central sulcus and the bilateral pads which are weight bearing and in contact with the ground. It is nice and wide at the base.
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