The Magic of the Mustang Roll
By: James & Yvonne Welz
Reprinted with permission from The Horse's Hoof. Click here for subscription information.
Over the years, probably no other single trimming technique has become more synonymous with barefoot trimming than the "mustang roll." After all, only with a barefoot horse are we even concerned about finishing the edge of the hoof wall! Despite the widespread popularity and diversity of application of the mustang roll, it is still frequently overlooked as a sophisticated "tool" for reshaping the horse's hoof towards a healthier form.
History of the Mustang Roll
Jaime Jackson, the farrier/author who began the barefoot revolution in North America, must be given credit for inventing the term, "mustang roll." In his book, The Natural Horse, he describes the rolled edge of wild feet, which he called a wall bevel: "When I think of a bevel, what comes to mind is the beveled edge of a chisel, and that does not work for what I saw at Litchfield and in the outback. Rounded is a more fitting description, not necessarily the bevel shape that is apparent in a beveled-edge chisel."1
In this same book, Jackson then writes trimming instructions to create this rounded, beveled edge: "To finish the hoof without a shoe, the entire bearing surface of the outer wall must first be rounded off. Start with the rough side of a farrier’s rasp, working the tool downward towards the ground, that is, obliquely against the grain of the wall's projected bearing surface. Next, using the fine side of the rasp, smooth down the loosened horn produced by the rough rasping."2 He also recommends to follow this up with fine sandpaper, to really buff the hoof smooth.
The mustang roll finally receives its official title in Jackson's original 1999 edition of Horse Owner's Guide to Natural Hoof Care. This book, now available in a completely revised edition, clearly emphasizes the importance of the mustang roll, "...nature provides what I call the 'mustang roll'—a sobriquet in honor of the wild horse: a unique turn, or radius, of the outer wall's bearing surface... The mustang roll, of course, is a standard feature of the natural hoof care program. It is an extremely crucial part of the trimming process since it prevents ravel, facilitates breakover, aids the mechanism, is integral to hoof balance, and helps immensely in the healing of wall cracks."3
Jackson goes on to provide the actual definition of the mustang roll: "At the hoof wall's ground bearing surface, the outer wall will turn in a distinct, smooth radius of approximately one half inch; this is the 'mustang roll' and it is an important signature of both natural wear and natural trimming."4 Jackson recommends applying the mustang roll everywhere around the hoof wall, including the heel buttresses. He does warn against overdoing things, as excessive rasping can lead to "snubbing" the toe and weakening of the hoof wall.
Soft Ground and the Mustang Roll
Most American wild Mustangs live on relatively hard, dry, and abrasive ground. Most of the continental United States has climatic conditions that create relatively hard ground for at least a portion of the year. But what about soft terrain wild horses, do they still have mustang rolls? Or perhaps, even more importantly, would captive horses on soft terrain even benefit from the application of a mustang roll?
An initial question may be, what exactly is the definition of soft ground? What is hard ground? Using these terms to create comparisons can be a bit confusing. One person's hard ground may be another's soft ground! However, we think everyone can agree on the extremes: soft ground occurs when the horse's hoof sinks down into the ground (usually a wet climate, or very deep loose soil/sand). Hard ground occurs when the hoof does not really sink down into the ground (hard, compacted soil/dirt or other smooth surfaces).
Do soft terrain wild horses have rounded edges on their hooves? Photos of these hooves seem to be rare, but the ones that we've seen, such as the South African Botriver Horses (see THH issue 10), Camargue wild horses in France, and Atlantic barrier island ponies in the U.S., display a sharp-edged chipping of flared walls, with no smooth edges or rolls.
Dr. Hiltrud Strasser writes, "For good traction on soft ground, the toe wall must be sharp (not rounded). On rocky ground, the hoof wall will become rounded due to the abrasiveness of the terrain; neither would a sharp edge on the hoof wall give any advantage in traction on such terrain. Trimming a hoof to sharp-edged walls in rocky terrain may result initially in chipping, and eventually natural rounding of the wall. On the other hand, rounding a wall in a soft-terrain horse causes contraction if the rounding is carried past the toe region into the quarters and heels."5 She suggests that for soft ground and high performance events, a sharp edge is necessary for optimal traction.
Beveling the hoof wall, however, is considered helpful to aid in the healing of white line problems. Strasser writes, "...to help speed the healing of this and prevent further separation (since the damaged laminar corium will take time to heal), the wall in the toe and lateral regions can be beveled inward at 45 degrees. However, it must be kept in mind that if this beveling is carried past the widest point of the hoof, toward the heels, it will cause contraction in a horse that lives on terrain where the hoof wall can sink into the ground. The need for counteracting white line separation must be weighed against any possible interference with hoof mechanism on softer terrain."6 The suggested bevel is a 45 degree inward bevel of the lateral walls (to help push the wall towards the sole), limited to the front of the hoof.
This leads us to the final question—would adding a mustang roll be beneficial to our captive horses, even if they live on softer ground? Many trimmers are reporting positive results on all different terrains. Keep an eye on the possible negative side-effects: loss of traction, or any tendency towards contraction of the hooves—then, we say, use what works. Effectively applying a mustang roll seems to create greater balance in the hoof capsule, leading to a widening of heels (so, reducing contraction), increase in concavity and toe height, and elimination of white line separation.
The Evolution of the Mustang Roll
Despite the possible problems on soft terrain, many hoofcare practitioners have found the mustang roll to be extremely valuable. Marjorie Smith writes in her explanation of a wild horse trim, "Finish the hoof with a rounded bevel ('mustang roll') to the water line (inside layer of hoof wall). The reason is to give the hoof a fast breakover; reduce flaring (white line separation); and remove the lever force of a long toe, which contracts the heels. A flare, or a toe 'long out in front,' can be rockered and then rounded as far as the edge of the sole, reducing the additional lever effect of the flare."6
Tomas Teskey, DVM, writes, "Studies of self-trimming horses reveal very rounded hoof edges. Mimicking this type of wear by using the rasp to bevel and round wall edges from heel to heel is also appropriate and increases performance. Sharp edges that catch and chip or tear away cause sensitivity and reduce a horse's willingness to perform at increased levels."7
Equine Podiatrist KC La Pierre features the mustang roll as the final step of his trim system, and utilizes a special sanding block to create a really smooth edge. In his book, The Chosen Road, he writes about the mustang roll, giving due credit to Jaime Jackson, "Everyone loves this term and it serves us well."8
In his 2003 book, Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You, farrier & barefoot advocate Pete Ramey recommends finishing the entire hoof wall with a mustang roll, using a 3/8 inch radius. "It is easiest to start the radius from the bottom with a rasp and then bring the hoof forward to finish. This makes hooves look beautiful to the eye..."9
In updates to his book posted July 2005, Ramey suggests a different application: "Mustang Roll? I have found that applying a very prominent bevel to the outer walls rather than a round radius is much more effective. Be careful to leave the wall 1/16 inch longer than the sole unless the horse has worn them level with each other. This bevel should be around 45 degrees and from the widest part of the hoof, around the toe to the other side at the widest part of the foot, should involve all or most of the entire width of the hoof wall. Don't bevel the walls behind the widest part of the foot in this manner, but lightly roll the sharp corner."10
For those who may argue against rounding or beveling the wall on the grounds that this makes the wall passive, Pete offers a good explanation: "At first glance, most farriers say, 'You're making the walls passive.' Standing square on concrete; yes I am, but on varied terrain and in motion, the walls are very much engaged. You wouldn't call the walls passive if you got your finger stuck between the bevel and a gravel road! When a horse is pushing off its toes, the walls are set up to work perfectly. It has been nature's plan all along and it works."10
"It works" is the main reason why the mustang roll has become so popular. Whether in the form of a slight bevel, a roll of the toe, or a full rounding of the entire wall of the hoof, the mustang roll is an important technique worth developing, as we attempt to create the healthiest hooves possible on our captive horses.
1 The Natural Horse by Jaime Jackson, Second Edition 1997, Star Ridge Publishing, pages 74-75.
2 The Natural Horse by Jaime Jackson, Second Edition 1997, Star Ridge Publishing, pages 124-125.
3 Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care by Jaime Jackson, Revised Edition 2002, Star Ridge Publishing, pages 50-51.
4 Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care by Jaime Jackson, Revised Edition 2002, Star Ridge Publishing, page 81.
5 The Hoofcare Specialist's Handbook: Hoof Orthopedics and Holistic Lameness Rehabilitation by Hiltrud Strasser DVM & Sabine Kells, Published 2000 by Sabine Kells, page V-13.
5 The Hoofcare Specialist's Handbook: Hoof Orthopedics and Holistic Lameness Rehabilitation by Hiltrud Strasser DVM & Sabine Kells, Published 2000 by Sabine Kells, page VII-151.
6 www.barefoothorse.com by Marjorie Smith, "Strategy" page.
7 Look at those Hooves! by Dr. Tomas G. Teskey, DVM, 2005, EasyCare, Inc., page 24.
8 The Chosen Road, Achieving High Performance through applied Equine Podiatry by KC La Pierre, RJF, MEP, 2004, The Naked Greyhound Press, page 103.
9 Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You by Pete Ramey, 2003, Star Ridge Publishing, page 72.
10 www.hoofrehab.com by Pete Ramey, "Making Natural Hoof Care Work" Updates.