Healthy + Functional Bare Hooves

Hello readers! I have gotten so busy this summer with trimming that I haven’t made a lot of time to write. But I met a new client the other day who made a comment that prompted a train of thought….

She’s been following my Facebook page and regularly reading my #trimmingtuesdays and #teachingthursdays posts. Though she has been learning a lot, she was wondering what healthy feet look like! I often focus so much on treating thrush, flare, long toes, and flat soles that I forget to show what a healthy foot could or should look like.

Healthy Hoof Diagrams

When you study hooves, it helps to look at pictures. This is a diagram of a healthy hoof that I often use, from Jenny Edward’s website

In this textbook diagram of a bare hoof, you see a round shape, a shorter toe, a healthy plump frog, evenly spaced heel bulbs, tight wall connection, and all the solar structures are clearly marked and evident.

*Do not worry if your horse’s hoof doesn’t look like this!*

Here is another diagram, from a lateral view, of the inside of a hoof:

Here you see a nice clean view of everything sitting where it should be, both in and outside of the hoof.

The dilemma in discussing healthy hooves is that there are all kinds of healthy hooves! Generally, hoofcare providers agree that horses should have a shorter toe, their frog should be thick and healthy, the white line should be tight without separation, their sole should have some depth, they should have some heel to support the back of their foot, and every structure should be free of infection.

Beyond that….when discussing wall length or height, sole concavity, bars, heels, and how to trim everything, there is a bunch of debate about what kind of trim will produce a healthy hoof. And then there is nutrition, environment, lifestyle, stress, and medical issues, all which will affect hoof health and balance.

It is impossible for someone who specializes in hoof health to separate the hoof from the horse above it and from the environment under and around it.

Some horses, due to chronic issues, environment, nutritional deficiencies, or long term damage from lack of good hoof care can only grow so healthy or so functional of a foot. In these cases, the hoof care provider can say, “this is as good as it’s going to get.” These hooves may not look pretty, but the goal is for them to function well for the horse. I work on some horses who have chronic thrush that goes untreated. These feet will never live up to their full potential. Some owners can’t afford a hoof supplement, don’t want to move to a barn with better turnout, or don’t have the time to pick their horses feet out every day. I do the best I can with each horse and their unique situation.

And we haven’t even begun to discuss whether the horse is actually sound or not, but that is a whole other topic for a different day.

Hoof care providers work day in and day out with dysfunctional and unhealthy feet, and we’re constantly trying to educate owners on how to see the same issues we are seeing. Then we can empower our clients to make educated decisions. But my client had a great point — you can point out all the issues in a hoof all day long, but what would a healthy hoof look like? What does a functional hoof look like? How would we know one if we saw one?

Healthy + Functional Hooves

I don’t trim any “textbook” perfect hooves. None of these hooves will perfectly match the diagrams above. However, I do trim many functional and healthy hooves on sound horses who are enjoying their lives and moving in a comfortable and balanced manner.

RF belonging to a 5 yr old Appy/Holsteiner gelding. Sound and in training. Nice frog, nice heels, short toe.

RF belonging to a 24 yr old Arabian gelding. Shod for several years, I pulled his shoes in 2017 and he has remained sound and comfortable through the transition process. Beautiful heels. Tight white line connection at the toe.

LF belonging to a 7 yr old mustang mare. Sound and healthy. Beautiful strong heel, short toe, thick hoof wall.

RH belonging to a 6 yr old gelding, currently semi-retired due to multiple issues. Has only been out of shoes a few months but has functional hind feet. Strong heel, shorter toe. Currently more comfortable barefoot than expected.

Whether or not your horse has pretty feet, they can have healthy and functional feet! What is healthy and functional for your horse will be unique to their history, lifestyle, environment and situation.

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