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".
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
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).
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
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