Back to the Bars!

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OK, I know we've got through this before but I continue to see people posting things such as, "gotta get rid of those bars! If they pop up again, dig deeper until they're gone!" 


Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of black hole when it comes to the anatomy and physiology of the bars and the heels in the equine digit. This is VERY disturbing to me and I find myself actually getting quite perturbed over this lack of education, knowledge, whatever it is ... 

So, that's why another wee blog post about the BARS of the equine hoof! 

Let's review exactly where the bars are in the hoof and what their purpose is. 

Do you see the bars?  The start right at the "V" where the wall turns around to sideline the heel platform/buttress. 

Here is an illustration of bar material in a dissected hoof: 

This view is looking INTO the hoof capsule from the top. See the green circled areas?  Those are the BARS of the hoof. Very much like laminae but much thicker and stronger than hoof wall laminae. 

Here is another view: 

Can you see the difference in the bar tissue and see the power house it is? It's strong. It's connective tissue. It forms SUPPORT for the back of the hoof ... 

Yvonne Welz from took notes from a presentation she attended with Dr. Robert Bowker.  Here is one of her notes, "The rear of the hoof is possibly THE most important area for determining the health of the hoof. Bowker remarked that he kept trying to look elsewhere, but no matter what he did, it all kept coming back to the rear of the hoof!"

Further on in her notes, Welz writes, "Clarification on bar trimming: Some people have taken Bowker’s recommendation of weight-bearing bars a little too much to heart, going so far as to discontinue all trimming of bars on all horses. I clarified this with him—when he talks about weight-bearing bars, he means the rear of the bar being weight-bearing upon impact. He said that he very much believes in concavity of the hoof! So if a bar needs trimming, it needs trimming. Bowker is, however, very much against excessive removal of the bars, i.e. trimming them to the point where they no longer function as a weight-bearing structure. The bars need contact with the ground for correct blood flow and sensory stimulation. (And remember, terrain matters, so a horse on deeper terrain would receive more contact with shorter bars, and vice versa.) Since the bars are responsible for some of the sole growth, they should not be removed. He also recommends that the soles should not become flat, but should have concavity, with a thicker sole if needed."  (Bold italics my emphasis)

Now let's go back to some notes from an earlier blog post on the Bars ... 

"First of all, they provide a vertical stop for expansion of the hoof. This means SUPPORT for the hoof as it is loaded. They, along with the heels, prevent the hoof from expanding excessively as the foot is loaded and keep the foot from excessive vertical downward pressure. This is coupled with the lateral cartilages role in vertical descent of the foot. 

Secondly, the bars provide traction -- coupled with the heels as we talked about in the last post. 
Thirdly, they act as 'skid brakes' ... they dig in to the ground as the hoof is loaded and help stop the forward motion of the hoof and horse. 
Excessive trimming of the bars (and heels) will cause the hoof to descend and expand further than what the hoof is designed to do and cause the sole to thin as well as possibly foundering the horse." 
So, why OH WHY ???  would anyone want to 'get rid of the bars' entirely???  
Please ... before allowing ANYONE to dig out the bars on your horse's hooves, EDUCATE YOURSELF on what function the bars hold!  Read, study, examine, research more!  
Excessive bar material CAN cause pain to the foot; bars that are migrating past the center point of the frog towards the toe need attention. Bars that are grown too long and folded over onto the heels need attention. But do NOT 'dig them out'!!! 
SKIM the bars down to sole level (do not trim sole!!!!) ... SKIM is the key word here. Take the environment into consideration. Winter snow, ice, slippery conditions will call for bars that are not skimmed completely down to sole level in order to help with traction. Hard, dry, rocky surfaces will see the bars naturally exfoliate smoothly into the sole.  Soft, grassy, pasture will warrant longer bars while sandy, damp areas will call for bars mostly skimmed right to the sole. 
If the bars are hitting the ground first before the heels or sole then they need to be SKIMMED down; Bars that appear to be non-existant need to be left alone. 
Two illustrations of bars of HEALTHY hooves from different environments: 
The following photo is from ... a very dry, arid environment. Notice that the sole has not been trimmed. Just a little bit of trim to the walls and a slight rasp of the bars. This is a great, healthy hoof which obviously maintains itself well: 
This second picture shows a hoof from New England ... 
You can see the nice concavity in this hoof but can also see that the bars overgrew and needed to be skimmed down. This was in the spring time when there is alot of rain in New England. The walls were not mustang rolled because the horse needed the sharp edges for traction on soft, slippery, wet ground. The bars were not completely skimmed down but were taken down just far enough so they were not overlapping the sole or heel or loading up first on the ground. (The rest of the hoof was not trimmed up yet but the toes were taken back a bit after this shot.) 
Bars on the Equine digit have SPECIFIC PURPOSES ... learn what those purposes are and how the foot functions. 
Please, please, please ... do NOT allow anyone to do THIS to your horse's bars: 

(google photo)
That's all for today, Folks. Just please remember this blog post when you see horses with their bars 'dug out' ... 
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:


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