The old adage “no foot, no horse” has a ring of truth to it. The hoof is the foundation of the horse and the structure is only as stable and strong as its foundation. The feet, most commonly the forefeet, are a common source of lameness which can be attributed to the fact that horses carry 60% of their body weight on the front portions of their bodies. Therefore, good quality hoof care is imperative to the well being of every horse, regardless of use.
Anatomy of the Hoof
The foot structure is composed of three bones: the coffin bone, short pastern bone, and the navicular bone. The short pastern and coffin bones support a horse’s weight while the navicular bone is the hinge for the deep digital flexor tendon.
Aside from bones, there are numerous soft tissue structures within the hoof. There are also numerous external structures of the foot such as the coronary band, which grows approximately 0.25 inches per month, the sole, frog, white line, and bars. All of these structures are important and vital to the health and well being of a horse.
Genetics and growth largely determine the limb conformation, however, the hoof can be influenced throughout a horse’s life by trimming and shoeing, changing the shape and support. Foot conformation is extremely important in maintaining the health of the foot and the soundness of the horse. For this reason, we encourage a strong relationship with a farrier who can help maintain your horse’s hoof health at any life stage, which leads us to our next point.
A farrier will trim the feet so that the hoof has the proper angle and is well balanced inside and outside. If shoeing is required or desired, a farrier can determine the proper shoe size to best suit the horse. This might mean a basic shoe to help protect the hoof from excessive wear or a corrective shoe to encourage the hoof to grow properly and restore optimal hoof health or to aid in hoof related lameness such as navicular disease or foundering.
Common Hoof Related Lameness
Hoof related lameness conditions can typically be easily managed if caught early on. We usually see navicular disease, laminitis (founder), and fractured coffin bones. All start with tenderness of the feet and a reluctance to bear weight on one or more hooves. With proper management from both your veterinarian and farrier, we can see improvement and oftentimes a resolution of the ailment. There are many different factors that contribute to each lameness ranging from dietary management to injury related to work or pasture terrain. Laminitis and fractured bones are commonly a result of your horse’s lifestyle while navicular disease can sometimes be linked back to genetic confirmation but can also have outside factors contribute to its presence; however, all three can easily be managed with veterinary and farrier care on a regular basis.
If you notice any sign of lameness, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. We will typically start with a physical exam and get some history on if there have been any recent changes in work or diet. Radiographs help us diagnose the source of the lameness and sometimes blood work may be necessary. Our office routinely works closely with farriers and will communicate to determine if trimming or shoeing changes should be made to better support your horse