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Sunday September 25, 2022



Facets of the Four-point Trim

Written by Andrew L. Dibbern
Category: General Farriery
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In terms of farrier technology, few recent developments have had an impact on shoeing technique like the theories Gene Ovnicek and Ric Redden have put forward lately concerning the "four-point trim." The technique is based on empirical research that utilized wild horses as the model. It was observed that feral horses on the public rangelands survived harsh terrain with minimal physiologic and pathologic complications. Conformational deficiencies, depending on the severity, often predisposed an individual to injury which subsequently rendered it susceptible to predator attacks. Some minor conformational defects mattered little. The horses in the herd experienced few-hoof related problems, despite the fact that they were never trimmed or shod. However, they had a peculiar wear to their hoofs.

The subjects had very short hooves, square, rolled toes, and broken/unloaded quarters. The only areas that had ground contact were four points, or pillars of the hoof, as Redden describes them. The pillars involve both heels and two points of hoof wall and sole at the toe, about one inch in front of the apex of the frog.

The horses had such quality hooves that it was theorized this hoof wear was physiologically and conformationally efficient, granting ease of movement and consistent soundness. This makes sense, as the shape of the hoof complies with the simple law of physics stating that moving things tend toward a path of least resistance. Application of this conformation to domestic horses is providing promising data concerning the benefits of this technique.


It is well documented that an increase in growth occurs at the coronary band in response to irritation. "Irritation" can be considered to be stimuli such as shock, compression, massage or the application of an irritant. The tissue response manifests as an increase in both hoof wall length and mass. Those areas not experiencing as much irritation produce thinner wall and less length. The traditional method is to trim the hoof by flattening the ground surface and setting the shoe so that it contacts the whole circumference of the hoof wall. In doing this, we have induced growth in areas not normally stimulated and caused regression of mass in the areas best physiologically suited to support a healthy hoof. Upon application of the four-point trim, the hoof begins to remodel tissue and repartition blood supply to those areas now stimulated to increase production of hoof mass.


Initially, the heels are trimmed and rasped down to the level that the angle of the heel is at the widest part of the frog. This causes some apprehension in most farriers, as taking away heel goes against every instinct concerning the goal to enhance heel mass. Next, the rest of the ground surface should be balanced, just as you would using traditional methods. This should be done by starting at the heel and working toward the toe, stopping at the apex of the frog. The hoof angle should be the same as the horse's pastern angle or within a 2-3 degree margin of 53°. The weight bearing points at the toe should be noted. They should lie 3/4 to 1 inch in front of the apex of the frog. The ground surface of the heel pillars should be about 3/4 of an inch from back to front. Using the rasp, starting at the cranial edge of the heel pillars, the quarters are unloaded to a depth of about 1/16 - 1/4 of an inch, tapering to ground surface as it progresses to the toe pillars. The toe is then rasped to create a rolled or squared appearance leaving a 3/4 - inch pad at the ground surface of both toe pillars. The sole is unloaded around the inner circumference of the hoof wall and between the toe pillars ever so slightly. 1/16 of an inch is enough to prevent loading in this area, yet stimulates pillar formation. As much as possible, leave the frog, bars, sole, and bridge between the toe pillars intact. Lastly, any flares, especially at the quarters, are removed to provide a straight line down the wall. The edges are then rounded to prevent peeling and chipping unless a shoe is being applied. Above all, maximum mass should be maintained at the pillars.

A shoe may be applied to the trimmed foot if needed. The toe must be forged as a rolled toe or shaped such that the toe is squared.

Once the shoe is applied, it has a somewhat startling appearance. To the farrier's eye, it elicits a concern for esthetic appearance to the trainer or owner. I have had a number of individuals initially cringe upon unveiling the shod foot, but after seeing the condition of the hoof and the horse's attitude change, it becomes their mission to make sure I don't forget to set the horse up identically the next appointment. I have had many new clients request the technique, as they have seen the results involving other horses that they knew had been real problem cases prior to the application of the four-point.

A peculiar thing happens with horses diagnosed with navicular pathology. The traditional farrier treatment for navicular problems involve increasing the dorsal-to-ground angle of the hoof by increasing heel length, thereby decreasing stress applied to the navicular bone. This is achieved by creating slack in the deep digital flexor tendon that runs over the distal sesamoid, or navicular bone. Theoretically, this is sound thinking, as Long Toe Low Heel (LTLH) conformation has been positively associated with degenerative navicular syndrome. As I explained earlier, to perform the four-point trim correctly, the heels must be taken down to a level that makes them even with the widest part of the frog. With the horse's navicular condition in mind, it takes some real faith to do this, as it goes against everything that seems right. Interestingly enough, these horses act more comfortable once they have had a day or two to adapt to their new angles. The rolled or squared toe provides good breakover and seems to offset the decrease in angle that may occur. I've treated children's lesson horses that had to be reschooled because they were too full of themselves. Post treatment, they were free from the pain that had kept them from doing much more than a slow trot previously. None acted as if they were sour due to pain for they were obviously ready to perform, and they exercised freely upon being turned out.

As with any medical therapy, this technique will have a small percentage that may not respond at all, or their response may be very subtle. It is important to realize judgment of the response is subjective to the observer and largely depends on the actual case. Quality results are definitely related to the correct application of the technique and an objective assessment of the problem at hand.

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