What are Healthy Hooves?

How can I Tell if my Horse has Healthy Hooves?

I've done a lot of writing about the different pathologies and conditions of equine hooves, but thought it might be time to write about healthy hooves... what are healthy hooves? What do they look like? What do they feel like? What do they smell like? How do they fit the individual horse? What difference do they make in the overall 'picture' of the whole horse?


A good barefoot trim on a white horse's hoof


This is a hoof that had just completed a 100 mile (160km) endurance race completely barefoot. It is 'trimmed solely by nature'. I saw this photo years ago and never took down the particulars about it. I was so impressed that I copied the photo and laminated it to take with me in my truck and remind me, visually, of what I was striving towards with my clients' horses. It is an amazing hoof on an amazing horse. But I can't give the credentials to it as I don't have them. I do believe the horse's name is 'Remington'.


A healthy hoof, equals a sound horse.


The definition of a sound horse, is one who can move at all gaits over any type of terrain completely barefoot! 


I do not adhere to a horse being 100% 'sound' if the horse is 'sound' in metal shoes, but not able to cross a gravel driveway without doing the 'ouch dance'.


A horse that is 100% sound, with 100% healthy hooves, is one who can be without any artificial protection for the hooves and still maintain peak 'performance' over any ground or terrain that is presented to him.


Healthy hooves are a primary indication of an overall healthy horse.


A herd of wild horses frolicking in a green field



So Let's Take a Look at a few 'Landmarks' of Healthy Hooves:

  • Healthy hooves look healthy, with no ridges or rings, cracks, splits, or other 'marks' on the walls or sole.
  • Healthy hooves have strong, full frogs that are weight bearing upon loading of the hoof.
  • Healthy hooves have strong heels, with good depth to the collateral groove underneath the seat of corn, at least an inch (approximately 2.5cm).
  • Healthy hooves are in good form; rounder in the front than in the rear.
  • Healthy hooves land a tad bit on the lateral heel then 'roll' to the center upon weight bearing.
  • Healthy hooves show no indications for thrush or yeast infections.
  • Healthy hooves have healthy perioples and a healthy hairline, when looking at the back of the hoof, it is a good 2" (5cm) from the ground and forms almost a straight line.
  • Healthy hooves have no separation of the wall from the sole.
  • Healthy hooves have no flare to the walls or contracted heels.
  • Healthy hooves feel healthy and have no bad odours to them.
  • Healthy hooves are balanced correctly, according to the individual horse, but all will generally follow the break-over and toe length parameters of a well balanced hoof.


I'm sure there are some other parameters that I've missed here, but I think you get the general idea!


Now, keep in mind that hooves look different on horses from different regions of the world. Marshy, boggy, grassy areas are not going to provide the same wear as dry, arid desert land.


A group of horses wearing Scoot Boots on a trail ride


Rocky ground will cause a flatter appearing sole compared to a concave shape, simply because the hoof will develop more a protective, callused sole on rocky ground, whilst horses living on soft, sandy ground, will develop more cup-shaped soles.


A brown horse wearing Scoot Skins in an Endurance ride


Also, keep in mind that horses are born with perfect, tiny hooves that are able to cover miles of ground just hours after birth. There are exceptions of course, however, a horse born in the wild, with deformed hooves, is not going to last in this world for long.


Two cute brown foals hugging in a grassy field


Generally speaking, horses are not born with 'bad hooves'. Yes, we hear of certain breeds that are reputed to have 'bad hooves' bred into them, but I've found that, given proper hoof care, those hooves can be as healthy as any other healthy horse, regardless of breeding. Don't forget, hoof care includes diet, environment, husbandry and overall health care! One cannot separate hoof care from overall 'horse care'.


So, take a look at your own horse's hooves and what do you see? Please feel free to contact me via email at gwen.santagate@gmail.com if you think your horse needs some help!


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

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