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
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. Thankfully the horse I have now has chestnuts that remain flush with his skin and hair. They don’t ever seem to grow. But the horse before him was a different story. His chestnuts could become long and sharp, almost like the spurs on a rooster, if I didn’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 got older, the chestnuts seemed to grow more sensitive, and he didn’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’d 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.