What Do Healthy Hooves Look Like?

It occurred to me this morning, as I was again consulting with someone about her sore-footed horse, that there seems to be a lack of healthy-looking hoof photos online to share with someone as to how his or her horse's hooves *should* look. 

I was trying to explain diagonal imbalances as well as how the hooves need to be balanced but wanted to do so with photos. Since I spend/spent most of my last 20 years working on the last chance pathological hooves, I didn't take alot of time to take photos as I was so focused on the hooves in my hands, and the severity of the cases, that photos for "show and tell" were really the last thing on my mind. 

So I thought this week would be perfect to show some examples of healthy hooves.

First, let's establish what makes up healthy hooves. 

1.  They should be 100% sound on all terrain AND ... barefooted. A horse that "needs shoes" to be serviceably sound is simply NOT sound. But a rock-crunching horse that can move on all sorts of terrain comfortably is a sound horse. 

2.  Yvonne Welz from thehorseshoof.com says in her very first explanation of what constitutes a healthy hoof, "Healthy hooves may look different, depending on the terrain and environment that shapes them. Horses from wetter climates will often have a wider hoof form; horses from desert climates will often display a tighter hoof form, with more rounded edges and steeper overall shape. Trimming styles can direct hooves in one way or another, but climate still plays a vital role in hoof form."

Welz goes on to explain how healthy hooves have a "FUNCTIONAL FORM" ... so while every hoof (even on the same horse) may not LOOK the same, it can be functionally formed for 100% soundness. 

3.  Healthy hooves will not have any white line separation, cracks, splits, peeling, shelly horn or rings - the horn of the hoof will be smooth and strong and free of blemishes (except for some minor dings and scruffs)

4.  Any growth rings that appear on the hooves will be smooth and straight; not curving down and around the hoof. 

5.  Healthy hooves will have STRONG HEELS and bars and supportive heel buttresses. 

6.  Healthy hooves will have rubbery or callused thick frogs that serve well for hoof concussion and energy dissipation. They will extend probably 60% of the hoof length and be free of any bacterial Thrush or fungus. 

7.  Healthy hooves will be proportionally correct with a 1/3:2/3 ratio .. that is, from the breakover to the widest part of the hoof will make up 1/3 of the length from the breakover to the widest part of the frog. 

8.  The shape of the hooves will be reflective of the shape of the P3 in the foot ... more rounded in the fronts for weight loading and more oval shaped in the rears for 'digging in for impulsion'

9.  The walls will be approximately 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch and be uniformly thick from heel to heel. 

10.  The sole will also be about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch or more thick and well suited for the concussive force applied during movement on rough as well as smooth ground. 

11.  The hoof, itself, will *almost* superimpose when looking at the fronts or the solar view. That is, draw a line down the middle of the hoof and each side will almost be identical in size and shape. 

12.  The hairline will be smooth and without waves or bumps and there will be no swelling at the coronary band. 

13.  The frogs will not touch the ground when the horse is standing on a smooth, level surface but will just barely 'brush' the ground with enough space left to slip a credit card between the back of the frog and the ground. 

14.  The hooves, when tapped with something hard, will not sound hollow but will sound solid and strong. 

15.  Overall, the hooves will appear to be healthy and strong and will also feel to be healthy and strong.

Most importantly, the horse is 100% SOUND. 

The following photos depict healthy hooves - some well on their way to full health and others already there ... rock crunching hooves. 

Familiarize yourself with how HEALTHY hooves should appear so when you see something on your horse's hoof that doesn't "feel just right", yu'll be able to spot what is wrong and get it corrected. 

Now the first photo is depicted as a healthy hoof however, the lines show a bit differently and how *I* would trim the hoof: 

Overall, this is a healthy hoof. I would allow more heel growth and take the toes back a tad bit more. But nice straight hairline, flat coronary band, decent angles. 

This hoof is showing a bit of excessive pressure from the quarters as depicted with the curve in the hairline BUT .. this photo is also not square on so the 'curve' in the hairline is shown more extreme than it was. I would have floated a bit more in the quarters to relieve the pressure. Overall this hoof was 100% sound. 

Now this hoof is overall shaped well and nicely balanced but note the cracks in the wall and the rings. I would not say this is a healthy hoof but one that is well on its way. It has an excellent 'template' in which the new hoof growth can grow. (template = form of hoof) 

Now this hoof, while the horn is healthy, does have a crack in the toe. And, as you can see by my markings, the form is not balanced. Overall, this hoof is relatively health, probably 100% sound but if left in this form of balance would not retain the healthy soundness for too much longer. 

THIS is a gorgeous, 100% sound and healthy hoof. 

A great looking, sound hoof from Pete Ramey. Smooth walls, smooth hairline, great solid sole, nice angles and good length of heel. A great solid hoof. 

Another great solid set of hooves from Balanced Hoof Services, Monika Martin. See how symmetrical the hoof is? One could fold that hoof in half with little deviation from one side to the other. A beautiful hoof! 

Overall this hoof is healthy but needs a bit more tweaking. The Hairline is straight the coronary band flat except for that one tiny spot in blue; the angles of the tubules running down the hoofwall are pretty good and when the heel is allowed to grow a bit more and the buttress/heel platform brought back then the angle of the heels will also be good. i'd shorten the toe just a tad and bevel the all but, again, this hoof is overall a healthy hoof. 

This hoof is drop dead gorgeous! Strong, able to withstand the pounding that a 1600# draft horse gives it. The frog is healthy without any peeling or shedding or evidence of thrush or fungus; the sole is thick and strong able to adequately protect the foot inside, the walls are not separated from the sole at all, the hairline is straight across the back of the foot and there is sufficient depth at the deepest part of the collateral grooves under the seat of corn. The bars are strong - not overgrown and able to do their job as skid brakes nicely.The overall ratio, 1/3:2/3 is in play in this hoof. Overall, this is one heck of a strong hoof! 

So here you get to see some healthy hooves. Compare with your horse's hooves. What do you see? 


OH!  PS ... I forgot to mention angles of the dorsal hoofwall to the pastern ... note that angle. You want to see a nice straight line from the front of the fetlock down the pastern to the dorsal hoof wall with no breaks. The dorsal hoof angle, itself, should be the same as the new growth angle at the periople of the hoof. Get this angle, get the heels trimmed properly and you'll have that nice pastern - hoof wall angle that you're looking for.  



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Gwenyth Santagate is the author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" . For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She keeps a small herd of her own equines and continues to offer consults for horses in need.