Exactly What IS a Hoof?

An excerpt from 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves by Gwenyth Santagate. Available for KINDLE or as pdf E-book

"Hooves are always adapting to the environment. While genetics does have some role to play in the well-being of the hoof, the environment on which the horse moves and how much the horse moves plays a much larger role. Softer ground = soft hooves; hard ground = hard hooves. As was pointed out earlier, the natural, feral horse moves sometimes upwards of 30 miles a day. That movement is executed on varied ground – rocky, sandy, dry, wet, soft, hard, mountainous, plain, desert. The hooves of the feral horses adapt to their environment and are formed in accordance.

The tissues that form the hoof capsule provide nutrition and protection to the Coffin bone – that single toe of each hoof. These tissues also provide shock absorption and dissipation of the energy received during movement. The hoof is made up of different types of tissue and each part of the hoof is designed to do a specific job according to its natural design. There is not one part of the hoof that is not affected by another and there is not one part of the movement of the horse that is not affected by each part of the hoof. The hoof is attached to the lower limb of the horse which is attached either to the shoulder or to the hip depending upon which end of the horse we are speaking. There is no way to separate the hooves from the rest of the horse.

There are different types of tissues within a hoof and forming the hoof. The horn is made up of keratinized proteins much like our own finger and toe nails; the Digital Cushion is a combination of fatty and fibrous cartilaginous material, the frog is made up of another type of tissue that is fibrous while the connective tissues (lamina) between the hoof wall and bone are made up of even different types of tissues. The stratum externum, stratum medium and stratum internum are all comprised of separate types of tissues, each designed for very particular, specific jobs. The stratum externum (hoof wall) is only a few millimeters thick and is somewhat rubbery; the stratum medium is the pigmented horn tubules that make up the bulk of the hoof wall and the stratum internum (white line) is non-pigmented and consist of approximately 600 laminae that interconnect much like velcro to connect the hoof capsule with the Coffin bone. The sole of the hoof is firmly attached to the underside of the Coffin bone by a mixture of horn tubules and intertubular horn. Around the Coffin bone and directly below the coronary band are the Papillae which form the corium, the origination of the growth for the hoof horn and sole. Within the hoof are complex vascular systems that feed the hoof with oxygen-rich blood. This system must be maintained properly by overall health of the hoof and the horse’s body in order to produce and maintain healthy hooves.


A mature horse’s hoof will grow an average of ¼” to 3/8” a month dependent upon the time of the year, the horse’s movement, and the nutritional condition of the whole horse. Horses that do not move much during a 24 hour period of time will not stimulate the hooves to rapid growth whereas those who do move around much of the time will provide adequate stimulation for new and healthy growth of the hooves. The hooves are remarkable in that they will produce horn as needed for that which is worn away during movement. So, the more movement, the greater growth but at the same time, the more movement, the more self-trimming the horse will do if the movement takes place on firm, solid, hard ground. On the other hand, a horse that is not healthy will not be able to grow healthy horn to keep up with excessive wear. So, the whole horse must always be taken into consideration.

  The hoof wall grows down from the papillae in the coronary groove. The coronary is where the hairline stops at the top of the hoof. Anything that may occur at the coronary groove will take up to a year to grow out and may retain a scar that is susceptible .


  For instance, Quarter cracks can be remediated but will not fully repair until a new hoof has grown from the coronary (papillae) down. If the crack continued into the coronary band there will always be a scar and weakened area in this spot.  This is much the same as your own fingernail if you were to damage the cuticle. The damage may heal but not be totally eradicated until your fingernail has grown out completely and is then trimmed.

As the cells that are produced from the coronary papillae begin to grow down and form new hoof wall they become keratinized or cornified meaning they harden. Each papillae grows one tubule. Between the tubules is a cementing substance that is also keratinized with the growth. This is produced by the secondary laminae and forms the velcro-like tissue that holds the wall onto the bone.  Once again, this can almost be likened to your own fingernail. Equate the coronary with the cuticle on the human finger, the hoof wall with the fingernail, itself, on the human finger and the nail bed of the human finger with the connective tissues between the hoof wall and the Coffin Bone.

The non-pigmented stratum internum is also known as the “white line” (zona alba) of the hoof. This is the division between sensitive and non-sensitive laminae at the junction of the sole and the hoof wall. The white line is designed to carry the weight of the horse with the outer walls of the hoof.

General health, feed & nutrition, movement and emotional health all play a strong part in the growth of hooves. Any detrimental situations in any of the noted will impede hoof growth. Any changes in the diet, environment, mental health, or other affective circumstances will first be seen at the new growth by the coronary band.


PLEASE GO HERE:  http://forum.scootboots.com to learn and discuss more about Equine Hooves and the many challenges we face as horse owners. 


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 includingThe 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 SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf

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