Does Equine Hoof Shape Have An Effect On Soundness?


Hoof wall rings indicate stress on the hoof wall from uneven lever forces

What do you think? Will the hoof form in the examples below cause these horses to be lame in the future?  Anyone with considerable experience around horses will likely tell you very possibly yes. But little to no research has been done on the effect of hoof form on soundness.  So it is with great interest that The Horse brings us a study that asks just that question.

“Despite being widely accepted that abnormal foot conformation may be associated with lameness, there is a paucity of evidence-based information concerning foot size and shape and lameness; the purpose of this study was to photographically document the foot shape and external hoof characteristics of lame and nonlame horses,” said Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England. Dyson presented her study at the 12th Congress of The World Equine Veterinary Association, held Nov. 2-6, 2011, in Hyderabad, India.

The researchers photographed and documented lame and sound horses and reached some conclusions. Before we get to them let’s examine some of our own horses. (Nothing is known about the horses in the following examples but we can form some educated opinions).

Below are some examples of what can clearly be considered ‘poor hoof form’.  In general they are all overly long.


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High Heels

This example is the best of the bunch. Most owners and even farriers would be very pleased with these feet. But in reality, the heels are long, providing the highly desirable ‘support’ for the foot.



Both of the next two examples are just too long all over, especially the ones on the left.

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imagesOne very high-heeled foot and one ‘low’ one (which is actually correct in its proportions). Given that one hoof is correct, there is no reason other than farrier error over time in allowing the left heel to get this long. This gross imbalance between two feet is likely to result in arthritis down the line. This type of imbalance will even cause speculation the limbs are of unequal length. All one needs to do to disprove this is to check if the shoulders line up. This type of horse tends to have saddle fitting problems as a result, and the rider has trouble staying centered.

images (3)This foot has a bad case of the flares, which may be due to being overdue and should easily be rectified. But the medial lateral imbalance can eventually lead to osteo-arthritis problems or strains of the collateral ligament.


So what did the study find? The researchers measured the shape of the coronary band and dorsal hoof wall; appearance of growth rings and horn tubules; angles of the hoof wall, heel, and coronary band; and lengths of the hoof wall.

Key findings of the study were:

  • In 22% of horses that were lame on one foot, the lame foot was taller and more upright foot than the nonlame foot;
  • In 10% of horses that were lame on one foot, the lame foot had a long toe and a low, collapsed heel compared with the nonlame foot;
  • The shape of the coronary band was different between lame and nonlame feet: Lame feet had a more concave contour of the coronary band; and
  • Lack of parallel alignment of the horn tubules and divergent growth ring orientation were associated with chronic lameness.

“This study confirms that asymmetry of foot shape may be present in foot-related lameness and that appraisal of hoof conformation, including assessment of height of the coronary band and alignment of growth rings and horn tubules, may be helpful in chronic lameness cases,” concluded Dyson.

Their conclusion is that hoof form does, in fact have a bearing on soundness and their recommendation is to consider it when evaluating a horse for purchase. Perhaps in another few years or decades, they will discover that hoof form is changeable and a horse’s soundness can be preserved by creating it.

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