How can we encourage healthy hooves?

  • Pick out the hooves daily, get to know your horses hooves-take measurements and check the over all health.  This is key to keeping out rocks, thrush and spotting any issues early.
  • Trimming alone cannot create a healthy hoof, it must grow with constant movement on supportive varied footing.  Hoof growth is measured in miles not days, so stall rest and small paddocks will only add time onto the healing process.
  • Standing on soiled shavings for even a short time will have a rotting effect on hooves.  24/7 turn out with a shelter in a paddock paradise system is the most ideal but limiting your horses stall time where you can is always a good start.  We often forget that a horse only sleeps 2-4 hours a day in short naps. The theory of sleeping inside seems normal to us when in truth, that nightly stabled horse will be bored, hungry and alone a majority of the time.
  • Reducing the sugar and carbohydrates in a horse’s diet will improve the health of horses’ hooves greatly.  Diet is just as important as a good trim if not more so.
  • Movement and exercise are also key to healthy hooves.  The old term “Use it or lose it” applies to hooves as well.  Hoof wear promotes growth and if the hooves are barefoot, the wear pattern will tell a lot about how the horse is moving.

Barehoof trimmers do not utilize pastern angles or their relationship to the hoof angle influence hoof trimming.  If the individual horse really is genetically steep and in need of a more upright hoof, the barefoot method of trimming will show us the perfect hoof for the existing conditions for the individual horse.  Why should the hoof be bound to a static position in time as if they were always standing on concrete.  But rather, a barehoof trimmer is taught to visualize the internal structures of the hoof and trim the hoof according to its own unique needs based upon the live sole plane, while using the collateral groove depth as a meter to determine sole thickness or the lack thereof.

Does your horse currently have healthy hooves?  Find out with this hoof education page. It will help you identify the common issues that often sneak up on you when you are not looking...

Hoof Wall


The hoof wall should look smooth on the outside (without it being rasped!).  If you see bumps (growth rings - photo on left, above) then that can be an indication of a problem.  The growth rings relate to a time of stress for the horse and it is fairly easy to put a timeframe on the rings - just like you can with trees! The cause of the rings can be many and varied but, laminitis, caused by grass that is too rich, is often a major player.

Horizontal cracks (centre photo, above) are usually a sign of an old abscess.  They will normally grow out without too much trouble as once the abscess has burst it seal itself up on the inside to prevent further infection.

Vertical cracks (photo on right, above) can be much more serious and tend to be due to an imbalance of the hoof.  They will not grow out until the imbalance is dealt with. Often the crack will be an idea home for bacteria which will need to be treated to allow the hoof to heal.

Straight Growth of Hoof Wall


The hoof walls should grow in a straight line from the coronet as illustrated in the photo on the left (above).  See how when you drop a line through the centre of the hoof there is approximately the same amount of hoof on either side of the line.  (This does vary slightly, more so on the hinds where the inside wall is often more upright that the outside wall.)  Also note how the growth from the coronet parallels the width of the hoof wall (the distance between the red and outer yellow lines). 

The second photo appears, at first glance, to have straight walls but when you look at the sole view the flares become evident when the red and yellow lines are applied. The green lines indicate where the hoof wall should really be. 

The third photo shows a hoof with flare on the one side.  See how this is confirmed on the sole view when you measure the distance from the middle yellow line to the outer yellow lines.  This reveals that there is more hoof to the right of the line.  Again, the green line indicates where the hoof wall should ideally be.

Angle Growth at the Toe and Heel


At first glance this photo above shows a horse with a fairly low looking heel height (blue line).  However if you look closely you will see that the heel length (marked in pink) is actually too long.  This is called an underrun heel and it is where the heel grows at too low an angle.  This is a common condition that is often misinterpreted - many people only see how low the heel bulbs are to the ground and want to grow more heel.  However this just compounds the problem.  See how far under the hoof the point of impact already is?  By allowing the heel to grow longer the point of impact ends up even further under the hoof.  This is often how navicular starts because the impact force is in the wrong place and affects the tendon which causes damage to the navicular bone.

See also how the toe wall is trying to grow in at a tighter angle at the top?  But it can't when the toe is too long and the point of breakover too far forward as it keeps getting diverted to a lower angle.  Also note the shape of the foot when viewed from the bottom. It is oblong rather than rounded, again because the breakover is in the wrong place.  The green lines show where the hoof should be - with the point of impact of the heels further back under the horse and in line with the back of the frog.  The toe also needs to be brought back to allow the hoof wall and coffin bone to grow in a tight connection.

Hoof Shape

The ideal shape of the front hoof is shown on the left in the illustration below and the hind hoof on the right.  The hinds tend to be more pointed because they are used to dig in and push off to propel the horse forward.


The ideal ratio of the hoof, when viewing the sole is 2/3rds to 1/3rd. This translates as the distance from the apex (tip) of the frog to the back of the heels is 2/3rds the overall length; and the distance from the apex of the frog to the toe is 1/3rd of the overall length.


However be sure to take the measurements from the true apex of the frog - sometimes the frog grows forward so it needs to be trimmed back a little to reveal to the true apex.

Also be aware of the shape of the hoof - sometimes when the hoof is more oblong the ratio may appear correct but in fact is not - the whole foot has migrated forward.

Quality of the White Line

A healthy hoof has what is known as a "tight" white line.  This is the connection between the hoof wall and the coffin bone and in a healthy hoof it shows up as being approx 3-5mm wide.

The illustrations below show a healthy hoof first and a hoof with a stretched white line (at the toe) second.  The white line looks like stripes between the sole and the hoof wall and is much more visible when stretched.  Stretching at the toe is normally an indicator of rotation of the coffin bone as a result of laminitis or it may be from excess flaring of the hoof.



Quality of the Frog

A healthy frog is full, plump and level with the heels. The ideal texture is like a hard rubber/eraser and the central cleft should be open.

If the frog is tatty looking or if the central sulcus consists of only a crack then there is probably thrush lurking in there.

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.  ~ Winston Churchill