Introduction to Reading the Hoof


Horses have been central to my life since I was a small child. Horse feet, however, did not become important to me until the late 1990s when I was enrolled in farrier school. From the moment I started shoeing school I have been obsessed with the topic of the horse’s foot. My passion for the hoof led me to study everything I could find on the topic. Seeing how the hoof relates to horse health inspired me to become a veterinarian to be better equipped to help horses. Helping horses means sharing information with you, the horse owner. “Feet First” is my motto. Of course the entire horse matters too! This blog will begin with some farrier topics to give you a foundation of hoof basics. Additional topics will include hoof diseases, hoof research, acupuncture for the hoof and acupuncture for the whole horse. If there are specific topics you would like to see covered let WDAA know and I will try to address them.

Dr. Lisa Lancaster WDAA Blog Author

Photo Credit - Claire Bow of Rouxby Photography

This first blog post is an introduction to reading the hoof.  What does a healthy hoof look like? What are the possible warning signs of impending hoof problems? Is there a way for horse owners to detect or avoid hoof trouble in the early stages? A complete veterinary exam including imaging is one way to get an in-depth assessment of the horse’s foot. But there are also some simple, non-technological methods that may be used to judge the health of the hoof. While x-rays provide an internal view of the hoof, external anatomy can also give you an estimate of hoof health.

Experienced farriers assess many parameters simultaneously. However, when learning something new, it helps to have a step-by-step approach. Our approach in this blog will break down the big topics into “bite sized” pieces. This blog series will provide insight into how an experienced farrier assesses your horse. Although farriers may not always agree on specifics of what constitutes hoof health, the checklist we will cover includes generally agreed upon topics.

The evaluation begins with the foot as seen from a distance. The checklist then moves to finer details that require picking up the foot. As you become aware of the parameters of hoof health you might find yourself looking every horse from the hoof up. The culmination of your hoof health assessment is evaluating balance. It can take farriers and veterinarians years before they confidently grasp these ideas. Be patient as you learn the key components. You will become increasingly more comfortable with the concepts over time.

Before you read the checklist, a word of caution: a single indicator can be misleading or even insignificant. You must guard against over-interpreting any single parameter! A flared wall, a long toe, a hoof crack, or a misaligned hoof-pastern axis for example, may be an early warning sign or it may be insignificant. Knowing how to tell the difference requires taking the big picture into account. Farriers are cautious before taking action to eliminate or modify any particular signs. If the foot is shod to make a single indictor appear favorable, the results for long-term hoof health may turn out to be unfavorable.

This checklist provides clues to hoof and horse health. We will cover the following evaluation criteria:

  1. Posture and hoof growth/wear patterns
  2. Hoof-pastern axis
  3. Toe and heel length
  4. Front and hind hoof shape
  5. Hairline and coronet
  6. Hoof wall
  7. Sole
  8. White line
  9. Frog
  10.  Putting it all together: balance

Farriers and veterinarians spend years learning about complex and controversial issues of hoof health and balance. In the coming series you will introduced to the basic concepts that your veterinarians and farriers have studied. I will share with you what I have found most useful in evaluating the hoof. I have taught many horse owners how to read their horses feet. In my experience, as owners learn these evaluation skills they take an active and informed role in partnership with their equine practitioners. Check back next week to learn some clues to hoof health that you can observe before you even begin to study the hoof itself.

Copyright © 2012 ~ Dr. Lisa Lancaster DVM, WDAA Blog Author

One Response to “Introduction to Reading the Hoof

  • Keith Jacobson
    5 years ago

    Excellent subject, I look forward to future offerings!!!