What are healthy hooves? Balanced, well shaped hooves (wide and round with no contraction). Let’s discuss some examples, primarily of instances of less than healthy hoof form. Please click on the individual picture to get a better view.
The first thing to evaluate is thehorse’s overall ‘conformation’ or stance. The horse’s cannon bones (both front and hind) should be vertical, as this indicates balanced hooves which the horse is willing to load evenly. This horse is standing with its front legs underneath itself in an effort to unload its heels. This can be a result of actual heel pain, or simply too long heels unbalancing the horse. The hind legs look fairly straight.
Here is a good illustration of toe angle, or dorsal wall angle – the angle made by the wall relative to the ground. In this case the hoof’s angle is 48 deg – perfectly healthy for a front hoof. The 33 deg angle would be ‘shallow’, while the 63 deg angle would be too steep.
In discussing feet, angles are frequently a criteria. Here is an illustration of one of the angles referring to feet and legs. The before picture shows a broken back angle whereas the after picture shows a correct hoof pastern axis. It does not appear that the hoof in either picture is much different (though the toe may be a little shorter) so it may be a case of standing the horse up correctly.
The toes are much too short. They lack both length and sole depth. I would be surprised if this horse were sound on rocks/gravel surfaces. The horse’s stance just looks all around uncomfortable. The straight hoof-pastern axis suggests the horse is not wiling to put weight in its heels – despite the fact that the toes are so short that is likely the most comfortable part of the hoof. The hoof tubules are also distorted (curved) which suggests there were more significant issues that are trying to be corrected by removing a lot of distored hoof wall.
This is an example of a bulging coronet band – hairline at the quarter. This is extremely common in shod and bare feet and judging by the fact that the farrier is dressing the hoof with the fine side of the rasp – he is finished and this won’t be corrected.
This hoof is very odd. The collateral grooves appear to go all the way down to the apex of the frog (normally they end midway down the frog), the hoof is assymetrical (wider on the left but longer toe on the right) and there is absolutely no concavity, rather the sole is completely flat. The sole looks overtrimmed at the toe and there is significant white line stretching at the toe with signs of previous laminitis episodes.
This hoof has excellent concavity. For barefoot, these walls seem quite thin. Perhaps that’s why hte trimmer left such a wide ridge of sole next to the wall, but this is almost like having a shoe on the hoof without the shoe. Granted it seems more pronounced on the left. There is something odd going on with the bars and collateral grooves, with the left side being longer, deeper and more pronounced compared to the right side. Judging by how uneven this hoof is left to right, it wouldn’t be surprising if it were very uneven medially/laterall with uneven heels.
These angles, toes and heels look very good, but the way the lateral cartilage is bulging out of the hoof capsule indicates there must be significant contraction going on, either heels, walls, sole, bars, or all.
This is fairly obvious with the wall extending far past the sole. However the heels are also too high and there is contraction as a result. Usually in this kind of case the frog is buried inside the hoof capsule and is below the level of the high wall, but here it is level with the too-high wall. It could probably stand to be lowered along with the wall all the way around.
This is a beautiful, wide and round hoof with little contraction and good ratio of frog to toe length, but the bars are still a little too curved. In terms of trimming the heel weightbearing point is too far forward on the right side. (This is not an example of hoof distortion but rather a trimming comment. With a little tweaking this hoof could probably be textbook perfect).
This is a fairly healthy looking hoof despite the markups showing the flares and so forth. However the heel points (designated with the black line superimposed on the hoof) is too far forward and should be lining up with the widest point of the frog. This heel is likely to be underrun as a result.