Thursday, September 18, 2008

The healthy horse hoof: The experts say...

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Let me state my standard disclaimer: I'm not a horse expert and that applies double for hooves. While I know some areas of horsemanship passably well, when it comes to the equine foot I'm strictly a beginner. Ideally I could tell you about a great book, The Horse Hoof for Dummies, but no one has written it yet. So here are some tidbits of info that I've gleaned from reading...

Coronet or coronary band?
When referring to the area where the horse hair meets the hoof, I have heard people refer to coronary bands, coronet bands, or just coronet. I believe all are correct. But doesn't coronary refer to the heart? When you look up coronary, you find that it means "encircling like a crown; applied to vessels, ligaments, etc., especially to the arteries of the heart, and to pathologic involvement of them." So the term 'coronary' in reference to hoof anatomy refers to the fact that the band encircles the hoof. By the way, this band has special cells that grow new hoof (in case you didn't know).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Why hoof conformation matters
This great illustration from (an article worth reading) shows how a healthy hoof structure helps to both absorb force/reduce concussion. This mechanism/action is important for several reasons. The hoof is responsible for 70-80% of shock absorption. According to Hoof structure and foot facts, heel and the frog seem to be pretty critical to hoof health and soundness. The article says that the frog is an important shock absorber, sending concussion outward instead of up into the leg. The open heel and wedge of the frog allow the foot to expand and contract. As the foot expands it forces the bars apart, pushing the digital cushion upward to create a pumping action in the blood vessels inside the foot. The blood inside the cushion enables it to act as a big sponge to absorb concussion. Weight pushing down on this “sponge” (and upward pressure from sole and frog) also aids circulation because blood flows easily down into the foot but needs a little help getting back up.

When the hoof structure develops abnormally--e.g., when the heels are contracted -- the shock transmitted to the leg. Equally important, the circulatory "pumping action" is diminished, which will slow healing and growth/maintenance of tissue.

What makes a good hoof?
I'm embarrassed to say that after all of this reading, I'm still not at all sure I could distinguish between a healthy/good hoof and a bad hoof. Most articles acknowledge that two horses' hooves can look dramatically different, yet both sets of hooves can be healthy. Living conditions, conformation, trimming/farrier practices, and other factors influence hoof health. It was gratifying to find several sites such as the healthy hoof gallery that feature photos of healthy hooves. There are also quite a few sites that provide some general guidelines for judging hoof quality/health. Some of the guidelines are provided in this article. I'm purposefully omitting guidelines that are related to farrier work. Talk about controversy -- No way am I going there!

Anyway, the guidelines are below. If any terms are unfamiliar, a hoof anatomy graphic from Wikipedia is provided underneath the guidelines:

  • The hoof wall should be at least 3/8" with little or no rippling.
  • The coronet (also called the coronary band) is soft, elastic, and does not protrude from the wall. The hairline is even with no distortion or pushed up areas.
  • Hooves should be large relative to body size, symmetrical, and more round than oval. Rear hooves will generally be more oval-shaped and pasterns will be more upright compared to front hooves. Front and rear feet should match the partner (LR should match RR and LF should matchRF).
  • The distance from hoof heel to bulb should be relatively short. See healthy vs. unhealthy examples here: illustration 1 and illustration 2 (from the side).
  • The frog should be in proportion 50-60% wide as long. The apex (tip) of the frog should be 2/3 length of the hoof.
  • The hoof should be "under" the foreleg, not out in front of it (contrast examples A and B in two photos from an article at
  • Growth rings should be examined. They should not be too pronounced/ripply, and each ring of the hoof should be about equal in width. Each ring is about a month's worth of growth.
  • Bulbs of the heel should be firm, round, and of equal height. A cleft or track between heels can indicate contraction.
  • The white line should be uniformly thick with no fissures. In this photo you see an unhealthy white line where the blue arrows point (from Blue Heron Farms web site).
  • Heels should be fairly wide and form a solid base of support. The weightbearing points of the heels lie outside a line from the frog apex to the outer curve of the bulb.
  • The weightbearing points of the heels should lie outside a line from the frog apex to the outer curve of the bulb (see Help! What does a healthy hoof look like?).
  • The sole should be slightly hollow. Look for a sole depth of about 14mm (depth of cleft in heel?). In a healthy hoof with adequate sole depth, the sole adjacent to the white line should lift the collateral grooves about 3/4 inch off the ground in front, and around an inch off the ground at the back of the foot alongside the bars (This extra height at the back of the foot allows for expansion and a ground parallel collateral groove at peak impact loads)--from

clipped from
Transitioning barefoot hoof, from below. Details: heel perioplium (1), bulb (2), frog (3), central groove (4), collateral groove (5), heel (6), bar (7), seat of corn (8), pigmented walls (external layer) (9), water line (inner layer) (10), white line (11), apex of frog (12), sole (13), toe (14), how to measure width (15), quarter (16), how to measure length (17)
Transitioning barefoot hoof, from below. Details: heel perioplium (1), bulb (2), frog (3), central groove (4), collateral groove (5), heel (6), bar (7), seat of corn (8), pigmented walls (external layer) (9), water line (inner layer) (10), white line (11), apex of frog (12), sole (13), toe (14), how to measure width (15), quarter (16), how to measure length (17)
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Disclaimer: Some of these sites are a mixture of fact and opinion -- informed opinion, maybe, but still opinion.

Healthy hooves, inside and out from The Horse magazine

Help! What does a healthy hoof look like? from

The healthy hoof gallery from

Common foot problems from The Horse magazine

Landmarks for Evaluating, Trimming, and Shoeing the Equine Foot From The Horse magazine

Anatomy and topography of the equine foot (a publication from the University of Florida)

How to judge hoof health from

What does a healthy hoof look like? from the Australia Equine Barefoot Movement

Anatomy of a horse hoof from

Hoof form and mechanism: The keys to healthy, happy, sound horses from the Hoof Maiden

Normal vs. contracted feet from Hooves that work

Contracted feet from the California Thoroughbred magazine

Hoof and horse conformation from

Applied equine podiatrist has some good anatomy photos

How to recognize a healthy hoof notes from a lecture (Strasser Hoof Care)

Growing a healthy hoof (article from Equus Caballus magazine)

Hoof structure and foot facts from Eclipse Press

Hoof adaptability from


  1. What a great article! Thanks, Stacey. My filly currently has underrun heels from going the first year of her life without trims. It was very educational to read this post and relate it to what my farrier has been doing to correct her hooves.

  2. This is a really good topic. I've just had an issue with coronet band injuries that have to this point grown out.

  3. Great post - thanks for doing all of the research and compiling it for us lazy folks! :-)

    The hoof seems simple at first - my husband has no idea why I'm so concerned about feet - "they look fine to me", he says... It is such a complex system that alot of people don't realize the importance of... I'm lucky that I have a great farrier who is willing to take the time to explain things to me.

  4. Stacey, you did such a tremendous job with this! I really admire your talent for research, and all of the information and pictures you provide all the time, but this time ... this was fantastic! Way to go, fellow equi-blogger! ;)

    (Only thing I am uncomfortable with are the Strasser references, but... that is a whole nother topic! YOUR work here is still stellar, as always!)

  5. Hi,

    I am unfamiliar w/Strasser, to be honest -- no endorsement is implied, and an endorsement from me on this subject is laughable anyway!

    It's good to point it out though so folks know to read with a critical eye -- always other POVs out there...

  6. Very glad to see someone else promoting hoof health, not just saying add a shoe. Most horse care books out there DO NOT promote solid barefoot care as an option....they just state proper shoeing. The hoof cannot flex in a shoe and if your horse cannot go barefoot, there is something wrong either with trim,diet, environment or there is some serious issue that should be investigated, NOT covered up with shoe or do more damage with nails ;)


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.