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Hoof Care

 

The old adage “No hoof, no horse” has a lot of truth to it.  Our horse’s hooves are vital to their soundness which in turn is so necessary for optimum performance as they serve us in our equestrian sports.  When a hoof gets ‘out of balance’ and is not corrected in a timely fashion, chronic lameness can result.  And as many of you know, chronic hoof lameness’ can be very frustrating to manage and cure.  In fact many times chronic lameness’ originating in the hoof can be the demise of a horse’s athletic career.  Therefore defining and attaining proper hoof balance is a great starting point for promoting a long sound career in our horses.

 

The concept of hoof balance can be viewed from both a static and a dynamic perspective.  Each will be discussed separately.  Static balance refers to the visual appearance of the horse’s hoof capsule and how it relates to the rest of the horse as viewed from the side, front, and sole while the horse is standing still.  Static balance does not take into account motion, or the interaction of the hoof when it goes through the motion of a stride.  Static balance can be assessed subjectively, which is what a farrier does as he/she views the hoof from different angles and “reads” the hoof capsule in preparation for trimming, or objectively as a veterinarian does by taking radiographs to demonstrate the anatomy of the bony column in relation to the hoof capsule.  Both of these methods of evaluation are equally important to arrive at a balanced hoof.  A farrier who is unable to “read” the hoof capsule and inherent anatomy of the horse may never be able to balance the hooves even if he had radiographs every time he trimmed the horse.  And conversely, sometimes and excellent farrier can read the hoof and balance it to the best of his ability, but without the use of hoof balance radiographs, abnormal deviations in the hoof may be overlooked.  Simply taking a lateral view from the side of the hoof and a dorsal view from the front of the hoof can give your farrier a world of information.  Hoof-pastern axis, sole depth, palmar angle, joint space compressions are just a few of the measurements that can be obtained from these simple “pictures” of the internal anatomy of your horse’s lower legs.  Having said this, it is not advised to trim a horse’s hoof in an effort to force a perfect appearance to that hoof without taking into consideration the dynamic balance and the rest of the horse’s conformation.

 

Dynamic balance is evaluating the horse’s hooves when they interact with its environment during motion.  Simply stated, it is looking at how the hoof impacts the ground surface and departs from the ground surface during a stride.  It is therefore critical to evaluate the horse walking and trotting on a hard even surface in order to appreciate this relationship.  Better yet, to view the hoof’s impact, breakover, and lift off with slow motion videography from the front and side view would enable us to truly evaluate dynamic balance in our horses.  Since this is not readily available, having your farrier and/or veterinarian watch your horse in motion before and after a trim is the best way to ensure dynamic balance if optimal.  The goal in most instances is for the hoof to land slightly heel first or flat as viewed from the side and when viewed from the front, landing very flat from inside to out.  If the horse impacts the inside side of the hoof first due to an abnormal upper leg conformation, this may lead to chronic lameness down the road such as ankle arthritis or suspensory branch desmitis.  Landing toe first could indicate that there is too long of a toe (and accompanying sore heels) which should alert the farrier that chronic hoof balances may be an underlying factor.  Many other common conditions can be directly related to poorly balanced hooves including toe/quarter/heel cracks, sheared heels, navicular disease, corns, etc.

 

There is a wealth of information regarding hoof balance in the horse and as research continues, we likely will continue to learn valuable information about this important subject.  The above information is just the tip-of-the-iceberg, and meant to stimulate your interest to learn more and be actively involved in the health of your horse’s hooves.  Talk with your veterinarian and farrier when they are at the farm and have them point out potential problems or explain any questions you may have about your horse’s feet.