What is the '3-Hooved' Horse?

Ever Tried Riding a '3-Hooved' Horse?

Of course we've all heard the saying, "No hoof, no horse." But have you ever thought about trying to ride a 3-hooved horse?


We ride 3-hooved horses more than we think.


OK, no, I'm not spouting off nonsense. If one really stops to think, and as I've stated, probably way more times than is needed, we cannot separate the hooves from the body.


Well, of course not. No hoof, no horse! 


No, that's not what I mean here.


Think of the horse that is 'off' on one hoof. Or appears to be 'lame' going to the right. Or is 'head-bobbing' on the front left.

That's a 3-hooved horse.


Horses' hooves are vital to their well-being, although, how does the rest of the body affect the hooves?


Now that's the real question.


The muscular and skeletal anatomy of a horse

How many of you readers have your horses do 'bodywork' sessions with every trim? Or, even once every spring, and every fall? Or, even how many times during the strenuous show season?


I tend to think that far less people even think about bodywork sessions and horses and their whole well-being, particularly with regards for the hooves. So, what would be considered 'normal equestrian thinking'?


Hooves reveal the horse's movement and condition.


Did you know, that one can tell how a horse is moving, whether balanced or not, by the wear on the hooves? One can also tell how the rider is riding the horse, whether balanced or not, by the wear and growth of the horse's hooves.


Did you know that a 'pain in the neck' can stem from imbalanced hooves, or from developing laminitis or navicular syndrome? Did you know that cracked or split hooves cannot only arise from an improper diet and barefoot trim, but also from the body's muscle spasms?


Did you know that horses can recover from hoof-related 'diseases' much more rapidly and thoroughly when their bodies are free from muscular and neurological stress?


It's kind of like the 'which came first? The chicken or the egg' debate. Do the hooves get 'diseased' from the stress of the body, or does the body get stressed from hoof 'disease'?


The evaluation of a horse needing chiropractic adjustments
(This is an actual evaluation done on one of my clients -  Dx Chronic Founder)


Hooves and body are one!


I'll say it again, one cannot separate the hooves from the rest of the horse's body, nor can we separate the body from the hooves; they work together. 


If a horse is sporting poorly balanced and badly trimmed hooves, then muscles spasms can occur simply from the 'holding patterns' that the horse develops to avoid discomfort. On the other hand, a spasm in the neck muscles can cause hooves to wear and grow imbalanced due to the 'holding patterns' that the horse develops to avoid discomfort.


Once again, they work together.


When I was actively barefoot trimming around 15 horses a day, I also offered an abbreviated bodywork session on those horses that were in rehab from some hoof pathology. Then it became a regular part of my 'hoof care' practice. I'd trim the hooves, then examine the horse for muscular spasms throughout the body and released those spasms when I encountered them.


The result of incorporating this into my practice? Horses that kept their hooves in better shape (form) and in better working order (function) throughout their barefoot trim cycle, and the owners reported better 'performance' from their horses. More willingness to do what was requested under saddle, more athleticism, more relaxation and less uncooperative behaviors! Those performance horses who received regular chiropractic adjustments held their adjustments longer and were clearly much more comfortable 'in their own skin'.



Work with an Experienced Hoof Care Provider

If you have challenges with your horse's hooves and you haven't thought about how those challenges might be related to the musculoskeletal system of your horse, then you might want to talk to your hoof care provider (barefoot trimmer or farrier) about it or find some who is experienced in bodywork for horses. 


Just like the horse's body has a functioning circulatory, digestive, respiratory or thermoregulatory system, the body also has an energy system called the Meridian System. This system regulates and helps to keep all the other systems in good, working order, including the hooves!


Horses that cannot 'square' their hooves or horses who have hocks that 'twist' during movement, have shortened strides, are reluctance to jump over obstacles or side-pass or even bend around corners, or horses that have hooves that are growing asymmetrically, are growing one hoof more upright than the other, or appear to be 'pigeon-toed' or winging or paddling... all of these can speak of hoof imbalances that are occurring from body spasms and discomfort causing those 'holding patterns'.



A Bodyworker can Also Give Insight

Next time your horse is due for a barefoot trim, and the hoof care provider states of a difference in the hooves, an imbalance or other such issues, think about having a bodyworker come take a look at your horse. You might just find that whatever behavioural or performance challenge, or hoof issue you're facing, is actually caused not by the hooves directly, but are due to imbalances in the body itself.


A female veterinarian performing chiropractic adjustments on a brown horse


Farrier and Barefoot Trimmer Takeaways

Imbalances in the upper body can affect the form and function of the feet and may also cause discomfort and reduced range of motion in the legs when the farrier is trying to work on feet.


It doesn’t do much good to trim and balance the feet if abnormal forces in the body are going to keep pulling the leg/hoof out of balance and re-create the problems.


Whole-body bodywork can relieve stresses due to soft-tissue pulls on the skeletal structure and make the farrier/barefoot trimmer’s job easier and more productive.




A pretty brown horse galloping through grass wearing green Scoot Boots


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:  www.thepenzancehorse.com

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

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