Trimming Chestnuts on Horse Legs

I have two Friesian crosses. One is 1/2 Friesian, 1/4 Morgan, 1/4 Belgian. He has enormous, unsightly chestnuts. My other horse, 1/2 Friesian, 1/2 Morgan, had normal flat chestnuts. I sometimes remember to ask the farrier to trim Shadowfax’s chestnuts, but even then, he only cuts off a little bit and leaves an inch or more. They are rough and cracked and ragged. Do chestnuts have nerve endings? How much of them can safely be trimmed off? I would be worried about using a sharp enough knife in case of accidentally cutting his leg, so are there some kind of clippers that can be used? I’ve never seen any advice about this problem, and no other horses in our barn (about 30 of them) have these overgrown chestnuts. He is going to be shown this spring and I’d like him to look nice . Thank you!

LF, North Carolina

Dear LF,

I love this question! Chestnuts are one of those things that no one ever talks about, and if you weren’t born into a horsey family, you may not know anything about them. I’ve always heard that chestnuts are the remnants of toes that horses lost during evolution. My anatomy book specifically says chestnuts are versions of footpads, the cushions on which animals walk. Foot pads are quite pronounced in some animals, such as bears, and less pronounced in other animals, such as dogs and cats. In horses, the foot pad is incorporated into the hoof as the frog. The chestnuts are described as “vestigial” knee and hock foot pads, meaning the structures have atrophied and become nonfunctional.

But that doesn’t solve your problem, because the darn things still exist and continue to grow. I have one horse whose chestnuts remain flush with his skin and hair. They don’t ever seem to grow. Then there’s my other horse. His chestnuts can become long and sharp, almost like the spurs on a rooster, if I don’t keep them under control! I used to peel them off after I gave him a bath, because they were softer then. But as he’s gotten older, the chestnuts seem to have grown more sensitive, and he doesn’t even like me to touch them. Luckily, I stumbled upon an excellent way of encouraging them to fall off with hardly any effort on my part: put a little petroleum jelly on them. After a day or two—if they didn’t come off on their own—they’ll easily fall off if I “accidentally” hit them with a brush during grooming.

Although I’ve never heard of using clippers on them as you suggest, I have had farriers trim them regularly (with a hoof knife, not nippers). And I did just read that some people prefer to sand or rasp them down. You’ll just have to experiment with what works best in your horse, because in some horses they’re quite hard and flaky while in others they’re soft and pliable (I will admit to having twisted them off, although my horse didn’t seem to appreciate this method). As long as you work within the chestnut’s layers, I don’t think you are going to hurt your horse or “quick” him, as you can with dogs when cutting toenails.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM MA, currently serves as the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other locations. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association and enjoys training and showing her trakehner Newman in her spare time.  Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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