There Ensuring that a horse’s hooves are trimmed and

There is the
well-known saying, “no hoof no horse”. Ensuring that a horse’s hooves are
trimmed and balanced about every 4 to 6 weeks is crucial to the overall health
of the horse. 8 A horse relies on their hoof to work in coordination
with the leg to prevent increased stress or weight on any part of the leg. 7
Therefore, a horse that has unbalanced feet is the prerequisite to many forms
of lameness.7 In order to evaluate if a hoof is trimmed, balanced
and shod properly, you must take a variety of factors into consideration.Though it is
not the veterinarian’s job to trim and balance a hoof, it is important to
understand the fundamentals needed to evaluate a hoof to ensure horse soundness
and health. This allows you, as a veterinarian, to properly advise a client,
effectively reduce incidence of lameness and help the horse be the best athlete
they can be.2 Remember, it is essential to work as a team to evaluate
and come up with a farriery plan.2 As stated by Dr. Megan Cox, DVM,
“It takes a village”. 2There are
three main areas to focus on when assessing a horses’ feet; these include: hoof balance, hoof length and hoof angle4.
As such, the ideal foot is one that has a “parallel hoof-pastern axis, a thick
hoof wall, adequate sole depth, a solid heel base and growth rings of equal
size below the coronary band”.4 Each of these areas focus on a
specific aspect, however it is important to take the rest of the horses’
conformation and athletic endeavors into consideration as well. Thus, the goal
and focus should be functional feet for that individual horse.4 Functionally,
the conformation of the horses limb and hoof have direct effects on the
biomechanics of movement and the forces placed on the soft tissue structures
supporting the limb.4 As part of overall conformation assessment, it
is important to take the hoof-pastern axis into account. To do so, the horse
should “be observed on a hard, level surface standing squarely on all four
feet”.4 The ‘gold standard hoof angulation’ occurs when a line drawn
down the dorsal surface of the hoof wall and a line drawn down along the
surface of the heel are in alignment or parallel to a line drawn through P1, P2
and P3″.4Similarly,
the hoof-pastern axis is determined by drawing a line down the dorsal surface
of the hoof capsule and comparing that angle to a line drawn the dorsal surface
of the pastern region. If the angle of the pastern is steaper than the angle of
the hoof wall, than it is said to have a broken-back
hoof-pastern axis. However if the angle of the hoof is steeper than the
pastern, it is said to have a broken-forward
hoof-pastern axis.4 In the weeks between each time a horse gets shod, a
horse can create uneven wear, or have uneven growth, in one or multiple hooves.
It is important to also keep the individual horse’s anatomy and riding
discipline in mind when determining if the wear on the hoof is normal as it is
multifactorial and affected by things like confirmation, footing, shoeing and
work.

The toe acts
as a lever arm over which the limb rotates.4 Thus the longer the
toe, the greater the force necessary to pull the heel over the toe and complete
breakover (“the phase of the stride between the time the horse’s heel lifts off
the ground and the time the toe lifts off the ground”.4) This in
turn increases the length of the stance phase of the stride, increases the
amount of time forces are placed and increases the tension within the
supportive soft tissues structures in the limb.4 As such, it is
important to evaluate the length of the toe to determine if it is appropriate
for that horse. This can most accurately be done by taking measurements of the
apex of P3 on a lateral radiograph (as discussed below).3Just because
the foot is level does not mean that the feet are symmetric.7 Once
the foot is trimmed and leveled, a rasp and knife are used to make the hooves
more uniform.7 To do so, aspects such as toe length, hoof angle,
ground surface characteristics, coronary band and landing of hoof while in
motion are evaluated. As suggested by Dr. Megan Cox of Empire Equine LLC, it is
imperative to evaluate all of the hoof from all angles and sides while the
horse is standing still as well as while in motion.2 

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According to O’Grady et al, there are three main
techniques of assessing actual balance of a hoof. These include Natural Balance, Geometric Balance and
Dynamic Balance.Geometric
Balance is
determined by observing the horse at rest and thus does not take the landing
pattern of the hoof or the hoofs relationship to the limbs conformation into
account. When looking at the solar surface of the hoof, it should be able to be
divided into two equal, symmetrical halves, when a line is drawn from the toe
to the heel. In addition, the ground surface of the hoof should be
perpendicular to the long axis of the limb.4 When associated to the
leg, on a flat surface, the radius, carpus, cannon bone and pastern will line
up with the hoof.5 So if you draw a straight lined down the dorsal
side of the front leg, it will bisect the limb and go through the middle of the
hoof.5Dynamic
Balance is
determined by observing the horse in motion. The foot should always land flat
when the horse travels, and just slightly heel first.1 That is all
aspects on the solar hoof of the wall land with symmetrical force and timing.
The purpose of this is to make sure that the bony column lines up, and that they
are fully extending at any gate.1 However, it is important to
consider the horse’s limb conformation, as it can affect the landing pattern of
the hoof. In such cases it could be detrimental to trim the hoof specifically
to land flat as it would add unnatural forces to the limb.4,2Natural
Balance “suggests that the foot
conformation of the domestic horse should be modeled after the foot in its
natural state” 4. However there are several limitations to this
theory. Aside from being generally incompatible with traditional horseshoeing
techniques, domesticated horses live in a very different environment and have
altered genetic factors that have resulted in very different types of strain
and wear on the hooves. In addition, “the feral horse is not a domesticated
athlete”.4  While it is
important to remember where the horse came from, we must be sure treat the
animal that is in front of us for the situation that it is in.4

The
importance of a properly balanced hoof capsule is reflected in some common hoof
abnormalities. For example, a poor dorsopalmer/dorsalplanter balance may
contribute to ‘long toe/underrun heel conformation’ which in turn results in
altered biomechanics and forces to supporting soft tissue structures. On the
other hand, poor mediolateral balance is associated with sheared heels,
distorted hoof walls and hoof cracks due to disproportional forces placed on
one aspect of the foot.4A radiograph
of a hoof is typically taken to confirm certain disease processes, but they
also works well for farriers to help guide them where they should trim the
hoof. 6 If ever in question, films are always a good idea as they
survey the lateral and dorsal planes.2 Be sure to clean out the
hooves and have the horse stand on a level surface.6  If you are taking radiographs for a farrier,
leaving the shoes on is perfectly acceptable.6

You will
need two views to accurately assess the hoof; a horizontal, dosopalmar and a
lateral-medial projection.7 When taking measurements, you want to look
at the tip of the capsule to center of rotation, hoof pastern axis and sole
depth.2 The center of rotation should ideally be in the middle of
the foot; to evaluate this, the distance from the center of rotation line to
the toe should be a ratio of 60% toe, 40% heel.6  If the sole depth does not seem correct, odds
are the toe is too long.6  In
addition, radiographs show you the position of P3 and its angular relationship
to the hoof wall.6  If you
realize that the farrier being used isn’t the best at their job, be sure to
have that farrier present to use it as a learning experience for everyone.2
As stated above, it takes a village.