What does your horse's movement or posture tell you about his or her hooves?
How your horse stands and moves is all related to hoof balance. Abnormal stances, short strides, pigeon toes, duck feet -- all can indicate pain in the hooves. One foot pointing can indicate heel pain and that stance will put abnormal weight on the opposite front which then sets up a whole circle of imbalances - not just in the hooves but in the body as a whole.
If your horse is exhibiting shortened strides, reluctance to move forward, stumbling frequently, perhaps even refusal to lead out correctly can all point to hoof imbalances. That's the first place to look with any changes in movement OR in stance.
If your horse won't stand square? Check hoof balance.
If your horse is resting one hind foot more than usual, check hoof balance.
Does he have a wide or narrow based stance? Does he stand “parked out” with front limbs placed forward and hind limbs stretched back? Doe he stand with legs camped under?
Check the balance every time you pick the hoof out ... is a heel growing faster on one side than the other? What about a toe quarter? Or, maybe the frog is shifting in position slightly. These are tell-tale signs of issues with hoof balance that can lead to further issues if not tended properly.
In a study done by Sarah Jane Hobbs, PhD it was found that hoof angle was the best predictor of imbalanced feet, followed by unloaded heel height. Hoof width was not a good predictor of imbalanced feet, Hobbs said. She and her team also determined that the difference in hoof angle between the two front feet had a greater effect on the results than the hoof angle of each individual foot.
Photo courtesy of barefoothoofcare.net
With a high/low syndrome (one hoof being more upright than the other) it was found that the load time on the ground was the same for each but the force of the loading was different causing delayed and longer force on the hind limb in the flatter foot. In the limb with the flatter foot, braking force produced when the hoof was in contact with the ground was greater than braking force in the limb with the steeper foot.
High/Low Syndrome is just one of the imbalances that can occur in hooves. Other imbalanced situations include Long Toe/Low Heel; Negative Palmar Angles caused from imbalanced trimming, Toeing-In or Toeing-Out, Paddling, Winging, ... all of which cause issues not just in the hooves but also in the rest of the muscular/skeletal system of the horse.
Of course, when the body's askew then the movement will also be affected.
Learning what balanced hooves look and feel like, along with understanding how they normally grow and wear can help the horse owner prevent further damages to his or her horse and could even help prevent an early retirement.
Please, if a horse is acting 'ornery' or 'stubborn' and seems 'off', don't automatically assume its a behavioral issue. Horses don't just change their personalities and moods without GOOD REASON! If you have a horse that is starting to balk at the jumps, or resists forward movement, even feeling just a tad 'off' under saddle than usual -- take a good look at the hooves and call your hoofcare provider.
Nip it all in the bud.
BEFORE the situation becomes a major issue.
And just a couple of tips ... a horse that is standing with hooves in front of the vertical usually means there is toe discomfort. Those standing in back of the vertical ... heel discomfort. The horse that 'points' one hoof is indicating caudal heel issues. The horse that is refusing to stand square? Check the balance of the hooves. A horse who twists the hock while moving? Yep -- you guessed it. Check the balance of the hooves. Horse that have hairlines at the front of the hoof angled up on one side? Check the height of that "up" side wall and compare with the other side of the hoof. Are the walls even? Nope. I would be they're not.
It's also an interesting study to note the appearance of the muscles on the side of the horse that is exhibiting issues .. the size, the shape, the way it moves when the horse moves compared to the other side of the horse. Check the fur, also -- many times a horse that has imbalanced hooves and are experiencing discomfort will have rough patches of the coat on the corresponding side.
Yep, its true ... can't separate the hooves from the rest of the body.
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