A horse’s hooves are often overlooked in their importance to the overall health of a horse. Hooves cope with the sames stresses as human feet, often moreso due to the weight and usage of the horse. Hooves are efficient and help to cushion the upper body through their bio-mechanics and engineering. If the hoof is damaged and cannot perform in the proper manner, it may result in the breakdown of the hoof and the upper body.
Trimming of the hoof is very meticulous work. It can change the alignment of a horses legs and have an effect on the muscles around the the skeleton. The hoof needs to be balanced properly or the upper body will be out of alignment, and this can change the shape of the horse’s body. As it would with a human, imbalance can lead to discomfort, which can in turn lead to further problems including mood changes and injury. A high majority of upper body changes in a horse are caused by foot problems. Each time a change is made in the foot, a corresponding change occurs in the upper body.
There are a number of ways to tell if a hoof is imbalanced. The hoof is under constant stress; this is due to the pressure that is placed on the hoof while it is accomplishing its job. The system works flawlessly if the pressure is in correct alignment with the horse’s body. If the system is out of balance, it will cause damage not to just the leg and hoof, but to the entire body.
The following are preliminary signs of misalignment in the hoof:
- flares in the hoof wall
- concaved or convexed hoof walls
- misalignment of coronet line (pushed up or waves)
- cracks in hoof walls (stress cracks)
- shelly hoof walls
- heel bulbs extending out the back
- bleeding from coronet band
- distal cartilage alignment
- underrun heels
- navicular syndrome
A closer examination of the hoof will check for the following pathological changes:
- texture (hoof, sole, frog, white line)
- hoof shape
- frog shape
- pigmentation changes (white line, frog, sole)
- hoof capsule thickness and wear
- extra layering down of sole
- bruising or bleeding through the sole or white line
- abnormal fusing of frog and sole
- sole alignment with the white line and wall
- size of white line
When shoeing a horse, one must understand the importance of the type and position of the shoe. It can have a negative or positive effect on the foot and the upper body. This is due to the influence the orthopaedic stance has on the muscular-skeletal system of the horse.
Shoes should be made of materials that are light and should fit closely to the original alignment of the hoof capsule. In order to keep the pressure on the tissue as close to natural as possible, you can fit a metal shoe along the outline of the hoof capsule. Unnatural pressure should be kept to a minimum. This helps to maintain the correct vascular flow, and allows the tissue to repair itself in a natural manner. Treatment for damaged hooves is a long-term treatment and requires patience and care. In order to correct the stance of a horse, changes should be made gradually.
Navicular Syndrome primarily arises in equine athletes, during the prime of their lives. It can be painful and may end the horse’s working life. It has degenerative effects on the soft tissue and the Navicular bone. Professionals have put years of effort into determining the cause of the Syndrome, but still have no cure. Long term problems will arise if the early signs of imbalance are not addressed correctly. The success rate with returning imbalanced horse’s to proper balance is high, so long as they are treated in the early stages.
Heather Smith Thomas
The comprehensive approach of author Heather Smith Thomas explains how domestication has compromised the equine hoof, and offers instruction for returning horse feet to a more natural, healthy, and balanced state with proper care. Thomas explains the anatomy of the hoof, and teaches treatments for common foot problems. Her methods include daily cleaning, trimming, proper shoeing, and being aware of your horse’s typical behaviours, which enables you to recognise issues. Her book, Understanding Equine Hoof Care offers a wealth of information on maintaining hoof health, and teaches readers when it is time to seek the help of a farrier or veterinarian.
Thomas has experience caring for and shoeing her own horses. For 45 years she has trained horses and has published over 6,000 articles concerning horse and livestock health. She has written 14 books on horse health and training, and regularly writes for more than 40 horse publications.