Static and Dynamic Balance for your Horse

Previous blog posts presented hoof health assessment parameters based on tissue integrity. You have learned a few ways to look at hoof wall, sole, frog, white line, and coronary band to identify potential problems. You have also gained a few tips for assessing hoof pastern axis alignment, toe and heel length proportions, and postural tendencies as they related to hoof growth patterns. This week’s blog introduces the concept of static versus dynamic balance. This is part of putting it all together when assessing hoof health.

Static balance is evaluated with the horse standing still and assess the above parameters based on textbook symmetry. Dynamic balance is an assessment of how the horse lands and loads the feet when moving. The “perfect” horse will be balanced in static and dynamic parameters simultaneously. In reality, there are few perfect horses. Static and dynamic balance do not always coincide. A foot may seem balanced when the horse stands still. But if the horse interferes, forges, trips or consistently lands harder on one side of its foot, then that horse may not be in dynamic balance.

When static and dynamic balance conflict, it can be a challenge to weigh the options of what (if anything) should be changed. Sometimes in order to keep a horse sound, it is necessary to leave a foot looking imbalanced when the horse is standing still. For example it may be best for the horse’s performance to leave some mediolateral imbalance or allow toe or heel to remain longer than you think is ideal.

Looking at shoe or hoof wear patterns is one step in evaluating dynamic balance. Before you watch the horse move, you will look at the feet to see if there is asymmetrical wear from side to side or from toe to heel.

Interpreting wear patterns is complex. Like tire wear on a car, hoof and shoe wear is an indicator of balance, but by itself is not a reliable way to determine where the issues lie. If you see strange wear patterns on your car tires, on first glance you may not know if the problem is balance, alignment, or flaws in the car’s structure. The only thing you can reliably know is that additional diagnosis is required and the same applies to your horse’s shoe wear.

The dictionary definition of balance is a “harmonious arrangement of parts”. It is not easy to capture hoof balance objectively with a single definition. Harmony of parts describes the essence of hoof balance. If the parts—frog, sole, wall etc.—are correctly proportioned, the foot is likely to be in balance. But there is more to it.

Another definition of balance is “the power or means to decide.” Put in terms of a sport, an athlete is in dynamic balance when they are able to move in any direction while staying in equilibrium. A horse in balance has the power to decide exactly where to put his feet.

So can you just watch your horse move and decide if he is landing properly? Unfortunately it’s not that easy! The human eye cannot resolve the fraction of a second that the foot is landing. The fine details of dynamic balance cannot be assessed without the use of slow-motion video. You may think you see the horse land heavier on one side, or land toe first. But what you are watching is the approach as the foot makes it’s way to the ground. Watching slow motion video reveals some interesting approaches that can look very different from the moment of landing!

To complicate this further, experts do not always agree on the ideal landing. Generally it is recognized that horses tend to land with a flatter foot at the walk and as speed increases landing heel first becomes more common. And similar to the human foot that lands on the lateral aspect of the heel and rolls to the medial aspect of the toe, horses tend to land with some mediolateral asymmetry (again, increasing as the speed increases).

But here is a simple rule of thumb: if the feet show good tissue integrity, the hoof capsules are not distorted, the horse is not lame and has no interference marks, then dynamic balance is probably adequate for that horse (even if looks odd to you).

On the other hand if the feet look good but the horse is lame unless you leave the feet unlevel, then leave them unlevel! If your horse has old injuries or other compensatory patterns in gait or posture, it may not be possible to have ideal looking static balance and remain sound.

Ultimately how the horse performs is more important than how the feet look. So if your horse has signs of hoof distortion, but removing them makes him lame, your farrier will leave the hoof with whatever is the least amount of distortion that allows the horse to remain sound.

Although not always the case the average sound horse in static balance can also achieve dynamic balance. Stay tuned for the next two blogs that will review the most commonly used balance theories that your farrier learned in shoeing school. You have been developing your eye for hoof health as you have followed this blog so far. In the final two entries in our hoof health assessment series, you will learn some terminology that will improve your communication with your farrier and veterinarian as you discuss the details of your horse’s hoof balance.

 

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

 

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