“No Hoof, No Horse”: Three Aspects of Correct Farriery

Many a seasoned horseman will admit that success in any discipline of horse sport is dependent on healthy hooves. Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC), based in Wellington, FL, proudly offers the most advanced equine podiatry services to referring veterinarians and clients.

As the winter show season reaches its peak in South Florida, hoof care is paramount and the importance of good quality hoof care in the competition horse can’t be denied. The equine hoof is unique, as it is comprised of a group of biological structures that follow the laws of biomechanics. To that end, the farrier is a major asset during the show season as he or she can be proactive in maintaining the health of a horse’s foot and help to prevent lameness.

Illustration shows the bilogicial structures of the hoof and the biomechanical focus (red circle).

There are three very important aspects of farriery science that the farrier will use to keep any horse sound:

  1. The Trim: Trimming the foot in conjunction with the size and placement of the horseshoe. Typically, a farriery session will begin with an evaluation of the conformation of each hoof from the front, side, and behind to observe the height of the heels. Next, the farrier should observe the horse in motion to see whether the horse’s foot lands heel first, flat or toe first. Regarding the trim, many farriers no longer use the term ‘balance the foot’ – which has no meaning – and have begun to use guidelines or landmarks when approaching the trim. 

    The guidelines used are:
    – Trimming to achieve a straight hoof-pastern axis
    – Using the widest part of the foot which correlates to the center of rotation
    – Trimming the palmar foot (heels) to the base of the frog or to the same plane as the frog

    A closer look at these three guidelines, which are all interrelated, will help to show their importance. If the dorsal (front) surface of the pastern and the dorsal surface of the hoof are parallel or form a straight line, then the bones of the digit (P1, P2, P3) are in a straight line, and the force from the weight of the horse will go through the middle of the joint. Furthermore, and equally important, if the hoof-pastern axis is straight, the weight will be distributed evenly on the bottom of the foot.

    Left: Yellow dotted line shows the bony alignment of the digit. Red line shows the straight hoof-pastern axis. Right: Black line is the widest part of the foot and the yellow dotted line shows the heels trimmed to the base of the frog.

  2. Center of rotation (COR): As the COR is located a few millimeters behind the widest part of each foot, it allows the farrier to apply appropriate biomechanics to each foot. The foot is trimmed in approximate proportions on either side of the widest part of the foot, which provides biomechanical efficiency.
  3. The Heel: One should trim the palmar section of the foot to the base of the frog or trim such that the heels of the hoof capsule and the frog are on the same plane. Adherence to this guideline keeps the soft tissue structures (frog, digital cushion, ungula cartilages) within the hoof capsule, which are necessary to absorb concussion and dissipate the energy of impact.We must remember that heels do not grow tall, they grow forward. If we allow the heels to migrate forward, the soft tissue structures will be forced backward out of the hoof capsule. Furthermore, as the heels migrate forward, the weight is placed on the bone and lamellae, thus bypassing the soft tissue structures of the foot. Allowing the heels to migrate forward also decreases the ground surface of the foot.

Left: Foot where heels have migrated forward and red circle shows the soft tissue structures displaced out of the hoof capsule and thickened. Right: Shows the same foot after the heels have been trimmed and a larger shoe has been applied.

These three guidelines can be applied to any foot and they serve as a basis for maintaining a healthy foot, as well as a basic starting point for applying farriery to a horse with poor foot conformation or one with a distorted hoof capsule.

Left: Foot shows the three guidelines applied to the foot. Note the proportions on either side of the widest part (black line) of the foot. Right: Shows the length of the shoe and the wide expanse of the shoe creating a platform under the foot.

Have further questions about podiatry and farriery consultations available at PBEC? Call the clinic today at 561-793-1599 to learn more.