“No hoof, no horse”: The farrier’s three basics of equine foot care

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The three guidelines below can be applied to any foot, and serve as a basis for maintaining a healthy foot.
The three guidelines below can be applied to any foot, and serve as a basis for maintaining a healthy foot.

The importance of good quality hoof care in the horse – particularly those in competition – can’t be denied. The equine hoof is unique, as it is comprised of a group of biological structures that follow the laws of biomechanics.

That makes the farrier a major asset during the show season as they can be proactive in maintaining the health of a horse’s foot and help to prevent lameness.

The biological structures of the hoof and the biomechanical focus (red circle).
The biological structures of the hoof and the biomechanical focus (red circle).

There are three very important aspects of farriery science that the farrier will use to keep any horse sound:

  1. The Trim: Trimming the foot in conjunction with the size and placement of the shoe. Typically, a farriery session will begin with an evaluation of the conformation of each hoof from the front, side, and behind to observe the height of the heels. Next, the farrier should observe the horse in motion to see whether the horse’s foot lands heel first, flat or toe first. Regarding the trim, many farriers no longer use the term ‘balance the foot’ – which has no meaning – and have begun to use guidelines or landmarks when approaching the trim. The guidelines used are:
  • Trimming to achieve a straight hoof-pastern axis
  • Using the widest part of the foot which correlates to the center of rotation
  • Trimming the palmar foot (heels) to the base of the frog or to the same plane as the frog
Left: The yellow dotted line shows the bony alignment of the digit. The red line shows the straight hoof-pastern axis. Right: The black line is the widest part of the foot and the yellow dotted line shows the heels trimmed to the base of the frog.
Left: Yellow dotted line shows the bony alignment of the digit. The red line shows the straight hoof-pastern axis.
Right: The black line is the widest part of the foot and the yellow dotted line shows the heels trimmed to the base of the frog.

A closer look at these three guidelines, which are all interrelated, will help to show their importance. If the dorsal (front) surface of the pastern and the dorsal surface of the hoof are parallel or form a straight line, then the bones of the digit (P1, P2, P3) are in a straight line, and the force from the weight of the horse will go through the middle of the joint. Furthermore, and equally important, if the hoof-pastern axis is straight, the weight will be distributed evenly on the bottom of the foot.

Left: A foot where heels have migrated forward. The red circle shows the soft tissue structures displaced out of the hoof capsule and thickened. Right: This shows the same foot after the heels have been trimmed and a larger shoe has been fitted.
Left: A foot where heels have migrated forward. The red circle shows the soft tissue structures displaced out of the hoof capsule and thickened.
Right: The same foot after the heels have been trimmed and a larger shoe has been fitted.
  1. Center of rotation (COR): As the COR is located a few millimeters behind the widest part of each foot, it allows the farrier to apply appropriate biomechanics to each foot. The foot is trimmed in approximate proportions on either side of the widest part of the foot, which provides biomechanical efficiency.
  2. The Heel: One should trim the palmar section of the foot to the base of the frog or trim such that the heels of the hoof capsule and the frog are on the same plane. Adherence to this guideline keeps the soft tissue structures (frog, digital cushion, ungula cartilages) within the hoof capsule, which are necessary to absorb concussion and dissipate the energy of impact.

It must be remembered that heels do not grow tall, they grow forward. If the heels are allowed to migrate forward, the soft tissue structures will be forced backward out of the hoof capsule. Furthermore, as the heels migrate forward, the weight is placed on the bone and lamellae, thus bypassing the soft tissue structures of the foot. Allowing the heels to migrate forward also decreases the ground surface of the foot.

Left: The foot shows the three guidelines applied. Note the proportions on either side of the widest part (black line) of the foot. Right: This shows the length of the shoe and the wide expanse of the shoe creating a platform under the foot.
Left: The foot shows the three guidelines applied. Note the proportions on either side of the widest part (black line) of the foot. Right: This shows the length of the shoe and the wide expanse of the shoe creating a platform under the foot.

These three guidelines can be applied to any foot and they serve as a basis for maintaining a healthy foot, as well as a basic starting point for applying farriery to a horse with poor foot conformation or one with a distorted hoof capsule.

Article courtesy Palm Beach Equine Clinic

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