How can I Tell if my Horse's Hooves are Balanced or not?
When talking about balancing a horse's hoof, we always talk medial-lateral or anterior posterior balance. Rarely do I find that the diagonal balance has been addressed.
While many will use mechanical levels to assess the overall balance and measurements of the equine hoof, I find that an individual really needs to be able to learn to see and feel the balance of a horse's hoof.
I like to have the hoof-in-hand to feel, with my hands, the balance and I like to have the hoof clearly visible, with no mechanical obstructions, to see the overall balance of the hoof.
The 'perfect hoof' will always be an enigma. Simply because each hoof is an individual unit of an individual whole. It is not cast in iron or stone and cannot be sculpted to a 'perfect' shape. A horse's hooves are always influenced by their diet, their environment, the movement of the horse, the dis-ease of the horse, their dental health, their stress levels and more! Learning to assess the balance of the individual horse's hoof on that individual horse, is paramount to soundness and health of the overall horse.
There is no cookie-cutter trim for every barefoot horse or shod horse, either.
I will post some photos below that I've marked to show some different findings of each hoof. I hope I can explain what I have found, and give a clear understanding of what might be needed on each hoof.
First - let's look at the solar view.
An almost perfectly balanced rear hoof:
Can you see how the hooves are almost symmetrical from one side to the other?
Now, take a look at this one:
Notice the shape of the heel bulbs? One is more pronounced than the other (left side more pronounced; 'pointier'). This heel is a tad taller than its opposite side. Then, look at the diagonal toe quarter (the right side of photo), see the bit of separation on the white line? That wall is a bit higher than the rest of the hoof wall. This shows a diagonal imbalance that needs just a wee tweak, maybe a couple of light swipes with the rasp on the heel and the toe, and that will rectify the balance of this horse's hoof.
Now, let's take a look at the front of the hoof and leg. Yes, a horse's lower leg also provides landmarks for trimming hooves:
Looking from the side of the hoof, we see the same angles from the P2/P1 joint down to the P2/P3 joint and then to the ground. Then we see the angle of the dorsal hoof wall. The angle from the coronary band/hairline down to the ground is a straight line with no deviations, and is parallel to the line through the centre of the joints. The heel angle is *slightly* lower than the toe angle and is also a straight line with no deviations. From the side view, this looks pretty good!
The hoof below shows some major deviations that cannot be 'fixed' with just one trim. What could be fixed with one trim, would be the curved hairline showing excessive pressure directly below at ground level. One can relieve that pressure, just ever so slightly, by rasping the quarter walls a bit. You will also notice the dorsal wall angle is not parallel with the joint angles (green and red lines) and the tubules of the horn (yellow line) show a differentiation in the angles, instead of it running parallel to the ground. Now, this may not be a diagonal imbalance, but if it is not tended to properly, it will cause major issues in the future.
Compare the above hoof with the hoof depicted below:
What do you see? Do you see the nice straight lines? The parallel angles?
This is a well balanced hoof, with no diagonal imbalances.
Looking at the radiograph below, we see some determined angles. But, notice the discrepancy between the dorsal hoof wall and the joint angles from the bottom of the hoof wall up to the coronary band (red lines). There is a greater space at the bottom of the hoof, than at the coronary band (blue arrows). What does that tell you? Also, note that the coffin bone (P3) is parallel to the ground and the heel is very low. This is causing a negative palmar angle and putting great stress on the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon as the hoof is being loaded. The long toe will delay the break-over and cause damage to the tip of the P3, as well as the circulation of the P3 with excessive pressure on the Circumflex artery that runs right around the bottom edge of the coffin bone. There are also more remarks I could make about this particular hoof, but that would tend to be an information overload and confuse you. But, I would make a guess to say that with these kinds of imbalances, we would find a diagonal imbalance to this hoof as well.
So, study the photos above and take note of what is shown in the link in the first paragrah.
I hope this helps you to further understand the balance of the Equine Digit. Especially the 'Diagonal Imbalances' that I see far too often. Diagonal imbalances can wreak havoc with the movement and comfort of the horse. They can certainly be a complete puzzlement to those trimming. So truly, I encourage you to learn to feel what your horse's balanced hooves feel like as well as to see your horse's hooves, inspect them on a regular basis.
You might find a wee correction can make all the difference in the way your horse tracks, steps up, steps out, and a big difference in his overall way of moving.
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 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