What Does a Healthy Hoof Look Like?
I’ve written on several occasions about the common problems we see in hooves, but I realized I hadn’t yet dedicated a blog post to healthy hooves. Would you recognize a healthy hoof if you saw it? Surprisingly, many people probably wouldn’t– this was me, too, not all that long ago. The sad fact is that unhealthy hooves are much more common than healthy ones these days, and many people, professionals included, have come view this as normal.
And while it’s true that there is no one-size-fits all perfect hoof, there are certain characteristics that healthy hooves will have.
Now of course, I’m looking at this from a barefoot standpoint. I do not think a shod hoof can be completely healthy. If you disagree with me, that’s fine, but I’m just stating this up front before you read on!
So what exactly does a healthy hoof look like?
First of all, let’s start with the shape. Now this will vary some depending on environment and the individual horse, but the front feet should have a more rounded appearance while the back feet, a more oval shape. Each pair of hooves on a horse (front or back) may not be perfectly symmetrical, but they should be balanced and level on the ground.
The toe should be fairly short. Pete Ramey says about 3 to 3 1/2 inches in length. The heel should be short as well, but this length will vary between horses. Some may be sit 2 or more inches off the ground while others appear to almost sit flat on the ground.
The hoof wall is the outer part of the hoof–the part we can easily see when the horse has all four feet on the ground. The wall should be somewhat shiny and smooth (unless the horse lives on abrasive terrain), with no rings, waves, or cracks. The horn tubules should run in a straight line toward the ground.
As for the bottom of the hoof, the sole should be hard and somewhat dense. It should also be concave, more so in the back hooves. Again, a lot will depend on the environment here, and horses which move over rougher terrain will have a tougher sole than those which live on grass or soft ground. The white line around the outer edge should be tight and not stretched.
The bars should run about halfway down the frog and should be noticeable but not overgrown or folded over.
The frog in a healthy hoof should make up 50-60% of the length of the hoof. As usual, environment is a factor, but a healthy frog should be robust, tough, and have the consistency of rubber or leather. The frog should also make contact with the ground. (This can only happen if the heels are kept short and the horse is not shod.) The central sulcus (crevice in center of frog) should be shallow. (If it’s deep, this is often an indicator of thrush.)
Of course, creating healthy hooves in domestic horses is often easier said than done. Like many of you, I’ve had my share of problems over the years. You cannot force a hoof to be healthy through trimming or hoof creams or oils. It’s something that needs to come from the inside out. Diet, environment, and movement are all key factors, and if even one piece of the puzzle is missing, the hooves will usually pay.
But this should at least give you an idea of what to look for when deciding if your horse’s hooves are at optimal health. If you have questions/ comments, feel free to post!
Sources and Further Reading: