Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

Far too often when discussing a horse’s foot, we use the word “normal” as a reference point to determine its state of health. But what is the “normal” we are comparing it to?
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Far too often when discussing a horse’s foot, we use the word “normal” as a reference point to determine its state of health. But what is the “normal” we are comparing it to? Normal refers to a single foot on a specific horse, nothing more or less, because all feet are not born equal. Let’s throw out the term normal and instead talk about “healthy.” Whether a foot’s shape, angles, and symmetry match a textbook ideal has little bearing on whether that foot is healthy. In fact, taking a foot that deviates from one’s concept of normal and forcing it to meet those standards frequently causes far more harm than good.

Healthy feet can be remarkably different in many ways, but they do share some common features. For instance, a healthy foot can replace sole and horn as required, regardless of whether it is shod or barefoot. The healthy hoof also can maintain appropriate palmar/plantar angle (the angle the wings of the coffin bone make with the ground) with only subtle farrier intervention; maintains adequate medial/lateral (inner/outer) balance relative to the articular (joint) surface of the coffin and pastern joint; sustains digital cushion mass, which is responsible for shock absorption; and helps maintain healthy heel tubules (which grow downward from the coronary band and provide strength and resistance, protecting them from excessive loading and inevitable crushed heel syndrome).

Feet can remain within these healthy boundaries, though they can also deviate from this natural range for a variety of reasons, many of which we can identify, predict, and manage. The most important aspect of a healthy foot is overall mass (e.g., sole depth, hoof wall thickness and strength, and optimum frog and digital cushion function). If a foot has adequate mass, the qualities of strength, durability, and balance will follow.

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Written by:

Ric Redden, DVM, is known throughout the horse world as a veteriarian, farrier and educator. He owns and manages the International Equine Podiatry Center in Versailles, Ky, the first exclusively podiatry practice in the horse world. Dr. Redden is one of the world’s foremost experts on laminitis and other hoof problems and travels internationally, teaching others his ground-breaking techniques and concepts.

19 Responses

  1. They made many good points in this article everyone has their own version of a normal hoof.

  2. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    One advantage of showing the shod hoof is seeing it on a flat surface.  However, that could have been done by showing the barefoot hoof on a concrete driveway.  To talk of frogs, digital cushions and walls without showing the bottom of the ho

  3. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Ric,

    I’m happy to see that you’ve been following the comments.  The point of the original article was not lost on me.  I have no problem throwing out the term "normal" and replacing it with "healthy" as you say. &nb

  4. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    I want to thank everyone who commented on this article. You all made some good points, however many were a bit off track relative to the content and purpose of this short article. Kathy did an excellent job summarizing my thoughts and contents of the a

  5. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Sad that the article not only takes a shod hoof as a ‘normal’ example, but a VERY unhappy/unhealthy shod hoof…sighh… But yes, hooves can mismatch and be ‘normal’, and one horse’s feet can look different than another’s due to conformation, and both

  6. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Kathy, I understand the point the author was trying to make, I was just disappointed in the example they chose.  In my opinion the hooves shown are not particularly normal-looking or healthy-looking.

    As far as "protecting" the fe

  7. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    My horses are shod to protect their feet from the roadway, rocky surfaces, and rock faces that we almost continuously ride. I tried going barefoot for a while with one horse I had purchased shoeless, but too much hoof wore away, there was too high of a

  8. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    I totally agree with Jeff, Kay and Margaret.  A truly healthy hoof doesn’t need shoes – at all!  If you really, really feel like your horse’s feet absolutely have to have something on them, or if they are transistion from shod to barefoot, us

  9. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    I have to agree with Jeff.

    Why are shod feet being shown? That poor mare’s feet are awful looking to my eye. Look at the flare on the right front and the scar from injury or abscess. I believe the rings also indicate changes in diet over time.

  10. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Anne, My feet aren’t nude right now, but they will be tonight when I go to bed and tomorrow when I wake up.  I can’t imagine putting my shoes on and leaving them on for 6 to 8 weeks, can you? That’s what we’re asking our horses to do.  If you

  11. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Elaine, I agree with Kay about the importance of diet.  Blood circulation would also be a concern.  It would be helpful if you tell us if your horse is shod or barefoot.  A lot of people think their horse needs shoes because it has soft,

  12. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Anne, i too have to agree with Jeff.  Was disappointed when the article teaser was "THE HEALTHY VS NORMAL HOOF" and the pictures were of shod hooves.  

    Elaiane,  I loved the book MAKING NATUAL HOOF CARE WORK FOR YOU, PET

  13. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Anne – Jeff is completely correct . If you walked without ever applying shoes on your feet you would develop a " natural " callus as humans and horses do if left barefoot. Google barefoot runners – many Olympic marathoners compete barefoot. &

  14. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Anne – Jeff is completely correct . If you walked without ever applying shoes on your feet you would develop a " natural " callus as humans and horses do if left barefoot. Google barefoot runners – many Olympic marathoners compete barefoot. &

  15. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Anne – Jeff is completely correct . If you walked without ever applying shoes on your feet you would develop a " natural " callus as humans and horses do if left barefoot. Google barefoot runners – many Olympic marathoners compete barefoot. &

  16. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    @Jeff : Are you walking with your feet nude? Why not? Your feet are not healthy?

  17. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    It’s interesting to me that the author chose to show a shod hoof as a normal/healthy example. I hope Redden realizes they aren’t born with those things nailed on like that.  I’d be willing to bet if you took this example of "healthy" hoo

  18. re: Normal vs. Healthy Hooves

    Hi, I was reading the article on healthy hooves and it is very interesting. I was wondering if there is a product out there that can make a difference in the elasticity of a horses hooves. I have a horse that has very soft hooves and they crack on a re

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