I talk about Foundation First Training meaning your training will not weather the storms without a strong foundation, however, there is a foundation that needs to be in place before I can start any training, the parts of horse’s hooves need to be healthy. There is an old adage that says:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the battle was lost
For want of a battle the war was lost
For want of a war the country was lost
And all for the want of a horse shoe nail.
– author unknown
Parts of Horse’s Hooves
The horses feet are that vital. Without sound feet you cannot have a sound horse as everything above the foot is affected by their health. That being said, it amazes me how little horse owners know about the foot and how many will cut corners in hoof care in order to save a few nickels. They are completely ignorant of the fact that in doing so they are jeopardizing the integrity of the entire skeletal system of the horse. No one would feed their horse cardboard to save money as even a child knows horses eat grass. However, very few horse owners know the parts of the hoof let alone the complexity of its design. Too many horse owners let their horse’s feet grow too long, straining tendons and ligaments; neglect to clean the feet out on a daily basis oblivious to the thrush eating away the frog; employ any Joe that can nail on a shoe to save money causing the horse’s feet to be deformed with bad shoeing; all because they are ignorant to proper hoof care for horses. The foot of the horse is in my opinion second only to the heart in complexity and importance to the entire health of the horse and can be broken down into three main parts: The wall, the sole and the frog.
Most horse owners do know what the wall of the hoof is, but what you see on the outside is only a fraction of complexity of the design of the hoof. Right on the other side of the hard exterior of the hoof wall lay what is called the laminae. The inner surface of the wall contains thin plates of horn (same tissues that make up all parts of the hoof structure minus the bones) that run in columns from the coronet band to the bottom edge of the hoof wall. There are two types of laminae, the horny laminae and the sensitive laminae. These two dovetail together in the healthy hoof and bind the wall of the hoof to the coffin bone and it’s cartilages, creating a sling that suspends the weight of the horse preventing the coffin bone from descending on the sole. It is in this sensitive laminae that a horse can succumb to the condition call laminitis, an inflammation of the sensitive laminae that breaks the bonds that hold the coffin bone in place. This will lead to a rotation of the coffin bone allowing the bone to protrude through the bottom of the hoof if not treated within hours of onset.
The bottom of the wall, the hard exterior surface of the hoof, is the weight bearing part of the hoof and includes the toe, quarters, buttress and bars. This is the only part of the foot that should be bearing weight and the bars produce expansion when the frog comes in contact with the ground. Yes, the entire hoof wall expands and contracts with each step.
The sole is the white flaky part on the underside of the hoof. A healthy foot will be slightly arched up to allow expansion of the foot without causing the sole to become the bearing surface. It is connected to the inner lower part of the wall by a thin white ring of horn called the white line. It is connected on the inner part of the hoof at the bars. Again, the sole should not be weight bearing and thus not in contact with the shoe except at the white line at a maximum width of one eighth inch. The sole protects the sensitive parts inside the hoof and soreness can result if the sole, either by human error or natural wear, becomes too thin.
The frog is the soft triangular structure filling the space between the bars with two prominent ridges that end behind the bulbs of the frog at the heel of the foot. The groove between the frog and the bars called the collateral groove or the commissures where dirt, rocks, manure and thrush collect if not keep properly cleaned and healthy. What we see of the frog on the outside is reversed on the inside of the hoof and in the middle of the ridge on the inside of the hoof is the plantar cushion. The plantar cushion expands, contracts and aids in circulation in the hoof as well as lubricating the tendons that attach to the back of the coffin bone.
Now here is the really neat part about the hoof. Although the blood circulation from the heart to the hoof is sufficient the circulation back to the heart is aided by the movements, expansion and contraction, of the hoof structures. This movement pulls and pushes the blood throughout the foot as well as the legs of the horse. This is why when there is a strain or injury to the legs a stalled horse may suffer from “stocking up” in the limbs. The fluid to feed and repair the limb flows freely to the leg, but without adequate movement of the hoof structures does not in turn leave the leg.
When allowed to roam the hoof works as a second heart to the horse, keeping nourishment and fluids flowing through the legs and feet. It becomes apparent how important healthy, sound feet are to maintain a happy healthy foot. The utmost attention to detail on the care and maintenance of the hoof should be adhered to in order to avoid injuries and disease that could leave your horse unusable and in severe cases, having to be destroyed. The first step is educating yourself on proper hoof care and finding an educated and dedicated farrier that will keep your horses feet it top condition.