Promoting soundness from the ground-up. - What is a Healthy Hoof?
Western Maine Horseshoeing and Trimming - Promoting soundness from the ground-up.

The Wild Hoof Model- Nature gets it right.

This photo is the trimmed front hoof of an 18 mo old mustang who spent his first 15 months in the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming.  Several features of this hoof make it a great case example of the "ideal hoof".

1. Balance
The black line shows the center of the hoof. Notice that length from heel to center is greater than the length from center to toe.  This good natural balance promotes a heel first landing, which is essential for healthy hoof development.
2. Protection- Sole Callus and Hoof Wall
The sole callus (brownish coloring on flat sole area) is well developed and was left intact during trimming to protect the sensitive sole underneath.  The hoof wall is thick and shows minimal distortion (it is equal thickness all the way around the hoof perimeter).
3. Breakover
This is the area of toe where the hoof transitions from weight-bearing to non weight-bearing during a forward step.  In this example, breakover was established just ahead of two prominent sole callus pillars (highlighted with black marker spots), about 2 inches ahead of the center of the hoof.  In many domestic horses, hoof distortion (long toe) makes it nearly impossible to safely apply a proper breakover position without shoes.
4. Shock Absorbers

Note the large, wide frog in this hoof and the thick digital cushion (portion of heel area being pinched in the oblique photo).  The digital cushion of this yearling measured over two times thicker than the digital cushion of a seven year old thoroughbred being trimmed at the same time.  This frog and digital cushion "share the load" with the hoof wall and absorb shock during impact.  They also help "prop up" critical structures inside the hoof capsule like the coffin and navicular bones and their associated joint.  Not visible in this trimmed hoof is the importance of good dirt pack in the commissures and cupped sole region in helping distribute the load of the horse across the entire hoof during footfall.
A word of caution about the wild horse model
The wild horse model is a useful baseline for understanding functional anatomy- that is, how the different parts of the hoof affect and are affected by movement.  However, wild horses live and breed under entirely different circumstances from domestic horses.  Our domestic horse faces unique hoof challenges not encountered by wild horses, such as a paddock environment, wet/humid climates, and a rider who adds weight and who makes decisions about where his horse travels and at what speeds.  So while the features of a "good hoof" are the same no matter what the breed or origin of our horses, it remains important for hoof care professionals and owners to understand how these differences may affect our ability to emulate the "ideal" in our own horses through trimming. Horseshoes provide an artificial means of building back in the good features described above to hooves that have been compromised by environmental or genetic challenges.

Read more about evaluating the healthy hoof in the April issue of Horse's Mane, available to view as a PDF on the Educational Materials page.
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