How can Bodywork Influence the Hooves?

Bodywork and Hoof Form & Function 

How do your horse's hooves function? What's their form?


How does the body's tension or relaxation affect a horse's hooves and performance?


Great question!



Let me Briefly Address These Questions

A brown horse being ridden through on a dirt trail


  • Does your horse stumble?
  • Is your horse short-strided?
  • Does your horse act balky, and is unwilling to move forward?
  • Does your horse appear stressed?
  • Does your horse repeatedly swish his tail or frequently shake his head?
  • Does your horse have trouble lifting his hooves for the barefoot trimmer or farrier?
  • Does your horse spook regularly at the invisible boogeyman?
  • Do your horse's hooves grow irregularly or imbalanced?
  • Does your horse square off his toes in the fronts or in the backs?
  • Does your horse get cracks and splits in his hooves in spite of good hoof care?
  • Does your horse struggle with thrush bacterial infections?
  • Does one of your horse's hips rise higher than the other whilst walking or trotting? 
  • Does your horse struggle with bending either to the left or the right?
  • Does your horse struggle with picking up the proper lead during canter?
  • Is your horse grumpy and disagreeable?
  • Is your horse 'stubborn' about being groomed and tacked up? 

...and so on and so forth.

I could ask a million questions and then take a look at the hooves and the body to pinpoint what the exact issue is.

Most times the elephant in the room is overlooked.


Muscle spasms are often visually unrecognisable, however, to the experienced and trained eyes and touch, they become blindingly evident. The wear and growth patterns in the hooves can help identify problems with horses who struggle with issues in performance and way of going.


While the first places examined on a horse's body are their hooves and limbs, problems are simply chalked up to a disagreeable attitude, grumpy or stubborn behaviours, and, the worst, 'disobedience'. So many people do not understand or even think about the body as a whole. 


Problems can be found by simply watching the horse move, watching for inequalities in the stride, the body movement, the rhythm and the tenseness. Any of these can hint at many causative factors, however, the primary place to examine is the body and the hooves as a whole. This means that the muscular system and the resulting movement of the lifts affect the hooves. 


For example, when a horse is short striding on their right front hoof, the hoof wears unevenly and irregularly whilst the left hip appears to be 'stuck' and the horse going off to the right. This is going to be problematic for the horse. 


One must ponder, is it the right front hoof causing the left hip to become jammed? Or visa versa? So we continue to examine the rest of the horse's body, starting at the face. 


Examining the Face 

A white horse standing at the gate of a fence


In the photo above, can you see that the left side of the horse's face has spasmed up? This horse likely has issues flexing to the right, issues picking up correct leads, is short-strided and can be balky when asked to move out. 


Yep, all in the face. 


A brown horse with a white heart-shaped patch standing in a paddock


The horse above has no subluxation of the atlas. Can you see how symmetrical the eyes, nostrils and temporalis muscles are? This horse likely moves out fluidly, comfortably and has little issues maintaining the balance of their hooves. 


When observing a horse straight on in the face, are the eyes on the same plane? Or is one eye higher than the other?


Are the nostrils equally on the same plane? Or is one nostril pinched and raised higher than the other?


What about the temporalis muscles above the eyes? Are they equal in size and feel over both of the eyes?


If a horse's right eye is higher than the left, the right nostril is higher than the left and the temporal muscle is bulkier, harder and more protruding than the left, then I would guess that:

  • The left hip will appear stiffer and more tender than the right
  • Have issues circling to the right
  • And the right front hooves wear unevenly

All of this points to a subluxated atlas. 


A skeleton of a horse showing the atlas

(, n.d.)




What do I do if my Horse has these Issues?

Now, I am unable to give advice about what to do for these issues, but suffice to say that if you notice these signs in your horse, think about the issues you are having with hoof wear patterns, lead changes, flexibility to the left or the right, etc.


Did you notice I noted hoof wear patterns first? Yes! A Subluxated atlas is going to affect how that horse moves, which, in turn, affects the wear and growth of the hooves. 


I dare to say that probably 90% of the hundreds of horses I have done bodywork on have this subluxation (and, along with it, subluxated hyoid in the jaw). We can equate the subluxated hyoid to, perhaps, improper dentistry, and round and round we go!


Issues with the hooves are not just issues with the hooves along. I have said it many times before; one needs to look at the whole horse, not just the hooves!


Gwen Santagate during a bodywork session on a brown horse

Gwen Santagate during a bodywork session. 



Finding an Experienced Bodyworker and Hoof Care Provider

If your horse has his hooves trimmed and still is going 'off', then you know its not merely a hoof thing. Find an experienced bodyworker who can recognise the muscles spasms and subluxations that may be present and fix them.


The best time to do this is the day before the barefoot trimmer or farrier comes. Even the day before you may schedule a chiro appointment. I've worked with a few Equine Chiropractors, all of whom have recognised and accepted that bodywork, done just prior to chiro work, will cause the adjustment to hold longer and the horse to retain peak performance longer.


Ideally, a barefoot trimmer or farrier who is also a bodyworker is the optimal choice for hoof care. A little bit of spasm release just prior to hoof trim and then a little bit of further bodywork after the trim may reveal some small changes that might be needed in the trim.


Now just to confuse the whole matter, it is important to note that this is a chicken and egg situation. Which came first? The body spasms creating hoof pathology or the hoof pathology causing body spasms? That's why it is also important to have a hoof care provider that is able to recognise issues in the body or a bodyworker that is able to recognise hoof issues.

It really is a 'whole horse thang'.


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renown author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" 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 hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:

If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact

Gwenyth is available for freelance assignments, contract work and consulting.

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