Are You in the Building Business?

"With everything you do, you are either building your horse up or breaking him down. Which are you doing?" 

I just read this statement not 5 minutes ago and what first came to mind was photos of several hooves I've received over the last week or so, where the hooves are, plainly, not being 'built up'. 

No, in fact, they are being torn down with every rasp they receive. 

Gack!!! What do I mean by that? 

I mean, everyone is searching for that 'holy grail 30 degree hairline' to show the coffin bone is at ground parallel. 

To that I reply, HORRORS!!! 

Yep, horrors! 

Lets take a look at a couple of hooves with 30 degree hairlines and see what the rest of the story is ... 

How many times have you seen the photos of a coffin bone sitting on a flat surface? Yep, it shows that if the hoof capsule is to be a perfect mirror of the coffin bone, should absolutely have that 30* hairline but ... where does that leave all the rest of the inner foot parts?  The digital cushion, the lateral cartilages, the tendons, the ligaments, the corium, etc.? (Go to Part 1 of "Understanding the Equine Foot" series HERE.) 

The equine foot is way more than a simple bone in a capsule! 

The 30 degree hairline originated about 20 years ago with Hiltrud Strasser, DVM, promoting her "natural trim" of the equine hoof. Along with Sabine Kells, she authored the book, 

  • A Lifetime of Soundness: The Keys to Optimal Horse Health, Lameness Rehabilitation, and the High-Performance Barefoot Horse., Strasser, H. and Kells, S., Third Edition (Revised). Self-published, Sabine Kells, Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada, 1998

Her focus was on foot balance and trimming, especially in relation remedial trimming of foot conditions such as Laminitis and Navicular Syndrome. She, herself, made comments directed to the fact that her trimming may cause more issues for the horse and, even, death. 

So, you can see in the above photo that the hoof, illustrating the 30* hairline, has little to no heel. Here - I've highlighted the heel below: 


See where I've circled that tiny little heel? And the next photo shows the direction in which the horn tubules are growing the hoof. 

I contend that the hoof LOOKS pretty but pretty is does not equal pretty does. Well, since we've seen what happens to the inner foot in a hoof that has no heel (Understanding the Equine Foot Series) ... Can we expect that horse to remain "sound" (if sound to begin with?) 

Take a look at how the horn tubules are growing - pulling the heel, the quarters and the toe forward. This is pulling the sole forward, as well, and thinning the sole. I daresay this horse, if not owie now, will soon be VERY owie! (And, most likely dx'd with navicular and then recommended to put on shoes with pads and wedges). 

Let's compare to this hoof below: 

This hoof has a hairline that is 35*. See what a difference just 5* makes?  The heel is substantial (some would say TOO high but we've become so accustomed to seeing little to NO heels left on hooves that healthy ones seem to be extreme. 

Here's another hoof with good heel and hairline degree: 










This hoof above is even greater than a 40* hairline, but notice the nice horn growth that has built a good, sturdy, strong hoof. This hoof was BUILT this way; not 'trimmed' this way. Trims were done every 6 weeks on this hoof to keep it balanced. Other than minor rasping for balance, the hoof came from a weak, shallow hoof to the buff one you see above over the period of about 4 months. 

We can't carve the perfect hoof. We shouldn't be concerned with a 30* hairline angle for a ground parallel coffin bone. I daresay the coffin bone in the above hoof is about 2-3* from ground level giving room for loading into deep, soft surfaces such as sand WITHOUT over-stretching and taxing the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon as well as other supportive tissues (as the 30* hairline WILL do). This horse was totally sound on ALL terrain including sharp rocks and gravel. Not even a hint of head bobbing or owie. 

However, always remember that we can't assign static numbers to horses' hooves -- each hoof on each horse has its own parameters for comfort and health. Each hoof must be examined and treated individually according to the individual horse and that hoof's individual current needs. 

I would beseech you to take a hard look at your horse's hooves. If you are challenged by any 'owies' with your horse where you feel he or she needs boots or have even been recommended "shoes for soundness"- take a GOOD look and consider how you, as an owner, can BUILD your horse's hooves to full health and soundness. Your horse needs his hooves and all the parts of the foot to be in solid, good working condition. When one part is weak then, just like a chain, the hoof is only as strong as its weakest link ... 




Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoof care for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- or telephone in the US (239)-573-9687. For further information please click here:


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