Elizabeth TeSelle hoof_maiden@hotmail.com
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Things you may not know about
The Equine Hoof
So often people wonder why large creatures like horses have such "fragile" feet.  After all, hoof problems end many horses' careers and for many, cause most of the troubles we have with horses over the course of their lifetimes.  The implication is that either Mother Nature made a big mistake when she created the horse, or that somehow human beings have somehow "bred out" good feet out of many breeds.

The fact is that the equine hoof is an amazing and impressive creation that, when allowed to do its job, is a strong and functional part of the horse's body.  Horses who are naturally trimmed and allowed to live a natural lifestyle from the start of their lives simply do not have the problems most horse owners fear, including laminitis/founder, navicular syndrome, ringbone, etc.  But since so many people do not keep or trim horses naturally, many have never seen a really good foot and are unable to appreciate the miracle of natural engineering that the equine foot represents.

This section of the website will address some issues of which I find many horse owners, however well-informed otherwise, are unaware.  My goal is to help horse owners appreciate the equine hoof, so that we can work together to return their horses' hooves to the glory that nature intended.
Did you know . . . that sole concavity is not about wall height?
Often I hear people say that their horses feet are "flat," only to look at them and see nicely concave soles.  Or people point to flat feet with high heels and call them concave.  So it's important ot understand what we mean when we say that feet are flat or concave, and where to look on the foot to determine concavity.

Deep collateral grooves (the grooves on the sides of the frog) have nothing to do with concavity.  The collateral grooves are not supposed to be excessively deep, and if they are, this is because the heels and/or bars are too high. 

Sole concavity mimics the overturned cup of the coffin bone inside the hoof capsule.  Since the coffin bone is concave, the sole will also be concave (as long as the coffin bone is in the correct position within the foot!).  See photo to right.

Coffin bone showing cupped, concave bottom.
The photo comparison below shows an almost completely flat foot on the left (Southpaw, a laminitic horse) compared with a concave sole (Peregrine, a thoroughbred transitioned to barefoot). The arrow points to the best  place to determine concavity - the area near the tip of the frog.  The tip of the coffin bone SHOULD be about an inch forward of the frog apex.  In the laminitic horse, the coffin bone has rotated forward, so the tip of the coffin bone is actually back farther, closer to the frog apex, pressing into the sole and reducing concavity (see graphic on the right).

The problem is that most shod and conventionally trimmed  horses have some coffin bone rotation due to too high heels.  This is why "flat feet" (and their end result, laminitis) are unfortunately so common.
In laminitic horses, the sole flattens out as the tip of the coffin bone presses into it.
Did you know . . . that a naturally-trimmed (and fully transitioned) hoof rarely needs picking-out?
It's true!  I rarely pick my horses' feet out unless I'm about to trim them.  The hoof is so perfectly designed that it cleans itself if allowed to do so via a good trim and 24/7 opportunity for movement.  Pictured at left is a divot from a self-cleaning hoof.  Horses on 24/7 turnout with good trims will, when on soft ground, drop out several of these a day.  A small amount of dirt (NOT manure!) left in the collateral grooves ("dirtline") on either side of the frog is normal. 

Horses with contracted feet may not be able to self-clean for a while, until the foot decontracts and becomes more healthy.  Those horses may need some help.  But as long as the horse is out 24/7 on supportive ground, movement alone will do a lot to help him start popping out divots on his own. 

The greatest enemy of good feet is stalling.  Not only is the horse not moving (and so his feet are not working as nature intended), but he's also standing in his own waste.  Nothing damages feet more than ammonia and feces, something horses who are turned out on properly cared-for ground will never encounter.

Did you know . . . that the hoof is supposed to be warm?
A common concern among horse owners who take shod horses barefoot is that their horses' formerly ice-cold feet become warm. I've had owners call me worried that their horses are foundering simply because, for the first time in years, there is blood flow to the hoof!  The hoof is full of arteries and capillaries carrying blood to and around the hoof--vital for the well-being of the hoof and the leg!  The sponge-like digital cushion actually acts as a pump to move blood around the foot and back up the leg. 

So you should not be concerned if your horse's feet are warm -- you should, however, be very concerned if they are cold!  It is also completely normal to feel a digital pulse.  If there were no pulse, no blood would be reaching the hoof!  A strong, pounding pulse is, of course, potentially a sign of laminitis, but a blood-warm hoof with a pulse you can feel with effort is normal and desired.

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