What is the Mainstay of the Equine Hoof?

Well, today I am going to introduce to you the first of a series of posts that will have to do with the mainstay of the Equine Hoof. 

But wait – we’ve talked about movement of the horse and diet and other care … so what are we going to discuss that is so different or important now? "I thought we already discussed the mainstay(s) of the horse's hoof? So, what IS it?" ... 


Did you know that the HEELS are the main support for the rest of the hoof? Without them and their synergistic, supportive bars the hoof collapses.  *poof* -- Collapse.  On the other hand, too much heel causes all sorts of other issues from Navicular to Founder. And everything in-between. 

I'll introduce you to this via photos today more than words. You'll be able to see a clear difference in the heels from a very unhealthy hoof to very healthy hooves. And starting next week we’ll go into fine details of HEEL HEALTH.

There are a number of different schools 'out there' that teach about heels -- from one extreme of leaving NO heels to another extreme of never trimming heels.  

As with everything, especially health, there has to be a balance ... a middle ground where everything is "just right" for the individual horse and its hooves. 

Some may need drastic trimming down; others may need very little but a wee bit of medio-lateral (side to side) balancing. 

When transitioning from shoes to barefoot, it’s imperative to know, to be able to 'feel' and ‘sense’, what the individual hoof needs in the way of heel attention. That is something that is learned through experience and isn't something that can necessarily be "taught". However, the basics of heel health, of hoof health, can be illustrated with words and photos. The 'book/intellect knowledge' is then transferred to 'real time', hands-on handling and care of the hooves and that brings about a 'sense' or a 'feel' for that individual horse. That feel for the hooves will guide the trimming of the barefooted horse so that horse will be able to come sound and stay sound.

Let’s take a look at a couple of photos:

Photo courtesy of http://balancedhoofservices.com/ out of Danbury, NH, USA. Monika Martin, NHC,  is a graduate of PENZANCE Natural Hoofcare 101 & 102.

Photo “A”, above, shows a barefoot hoof that is rock-crunching sound. You can see the beauty of a well-trimmed hoof here but, better than that, the horse is able to perform at his highest levels without any tenderness or ‘owies’ from ill-trimmed hooves. The surface of the wall is worn smooth and there is a strong mustang roll around the wall. There is strong, upright heel that supports the back of the hoof well and the lateral cartilages and digital cushion are easily palpable and strongly resilient. 


Photo “B” shows a very long toed, low heeled hoof. This is a very unhealthy hoof --presenting with lots of rings, the entire hoof capsule is pulled forward and there is a pronounced toe flare. Also note how “weak” the area looks right above the heels and the entire coronary band as compared to the hooves in photo A. What this means is that the entire support structure inside - the Coffin Bone and its lateral cartilages - have "sunken". This is a foundered hoof. Healthy hooves have pronounced lateral cartilages that are easily seen and felt above the hairline in the heel area and the area around the coronary feels firm and resilient.  


Photo “C” is of another healthy hoof; again with good, strong heels and digital cushioning and Photo “E” shows the height of the heels after trimming. 

This horse is able to travel over gravel and stones and harsh trails without a blink of an eye. His hooves are rock hard and ultimately functional.

Notice the heel bulbs on these healthy hooves showing the fully developed, cartilaginous digital cushion that is so necessary for optimal shock concussion with thousands of pounds of pressure being thrust on the hooves with each step of the horse.

Photo courtesy of http://balancedhoofservices.com/ out of Danbury, NH, USA. Monika Martin, NHC,  is a graduate of PENZANCE Natural Hoofcare 101 & 102.

Photo “D” … this hoof has a beautifully formed digital cushion … the red arc shows the almost perfect roundness and thickness of the digital cushion. One can only imagine that the frog, underneath the DC is also firm, solid and healthy. You’ll also notice, though, that the heels are left at good height for this hoof.

The one hoof that is not healthy, not functional and unsound is the one hoof with the low, forward heels and the long toe as stated.

What do YOUR horse’s heels look like? Is your horse is transition from shod to barefoot? If so, what do you see?  Use these photos for comparison.

If you want your horse to be sound on all terrain, from wet to dry to sand to rocks, the heels have to have particular attention paid to them.

We’ll be discussing the details, as I said, come next week so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, if you have any questions don’t be afraid to comment below or shoot me and email: gwen.santagate@gmail.com 

Have an awesome weekend! 





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



Thanks for commenting, pop lop! I’m glad scoot boots are able to help. :)

Gwenyth Santagate June 30, 2016

I recently got scootboots for my horse and Found that it has pRevented her from going Lame when the grounD has gone hard and prevents me from having to shoe her

Pop lop June 29, 2016

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published