We know that the hoof is the primary cause of lameness in a horse. As the saying goes, “No hoof, no horse”. To set your horse up for success in the long term, the first thing we’re looking for is that balanced hoof. There are a few measurement you can take (or estimate) to understand if your horse has a balanced foot or not. Here are the basic relationships you want evaluate.
We’re going to start by looking at the angles on the dorsal hoof wall, relative to the heel. You want to see a parallel relationship between the dorsal and palmar hoof walls. When that dorsal wall is getting longer, your horse is getting long in the toe, and needs a trim.
Next, look at the horse from the front, straight on. Now we’re evaluating the inside of the hoof compared to the outside of the hoof, or the medial to lateral hoof walls. Imagine that you are bissecting the hoof, or draw a line down the middle of the pastern. You’ll want to see the same amount of hoof on the left and the right of that midline, and the same angle to the side of the hoof wall. If this isn’t balanced, it’s a medial to lateral imbalance.
Symmetry of the Solar Surface
Pick up the foot and look at the bottom of it. Draw a line down from the middle of toe to the middle sulcus of the frog. Then draw another line from the middle quarter on one side to the middle on other side. You’re dividing that hoof into four quadrants, and those four quadrants should be relatively the same size. If those aren’t relatively the same size, there will be some imbalance or abnormality to the hoof.
Medial/Lateral Heel Length Relationship
Now let’s look down at the heel to determine the balance in the length of each heel. To determine that, measure from the hairline to the ground bearing surface of hoof. Each side should be roughly similar in size. If there’s a disparity there, it’s what we call a sheared heel, and could potentially lead to a lot of problems.
These are the four basic measurements we look at when asking for a “balanced” hoof. We’re talking about the “normal foot”, but that’s an ideal. There are a lot of different things that could affect the way the foot looks. The number one factor being conformation, of course. If your horse is toed in, toed out, base narrow, base wide, etc., that will definitely affect the way the foot looks. The second biggest impact to a horse’s “balanced” foot is your farrier work. What a horse’s foot looks like will depend on its trimming, how often its begin trimmed, who’s doing the trimming, if they’re wearing shoes at all, etc. All of these will affect the way the hoof looks. When a veterinarian is able to work with your farrier, we’re able to be more specific and accurate while correcting foot abnormalities by taking radiographs and using those digital measures to be more specific.
Ask your veterinarian or farrier for their opinion on your horse’s hoof balance, and work with both to determine the best way to get your horse on a path to the “balanced hoof”.