Natural Hoof Shape


Do your horse’s front and hind feet have distinctly different shapes? If so, are they the typical textbook front and hind shapes? If so, great! Your horse has normally shaped feet! If all four are the same shape, what does this tell you about your horse’s feet?

Normal front hooves should appear round across the toe; hind feet should be somewhat pointy at the toe. A foal is born with all four feet the same shape but this changes quickly once the foal stands and moves.

Different shapes are a result of how the feet function. Front feet are more round and wide than hinds because front support more of the horse’s weight. Hinds are pointy and narrower than fronts because this shape is efficient for propulsion and traction. The hinds have to dig into the earth as the horse pushes forward. This pointy hind shape is also efficient for the turning and pivoting movements that horses do with their hind ends.

It is quite common to see hind feet that look like front feet. Because round or squared off toes in the hind feet may have reduced propulsive and twisting capacity, the horse may become sore behind from the effort to move forward. When you see hind feet that look like typical round front feet, this may indicate a hind end problem. Many horses drag their hind feet, and the owner may believe this is part of the normal locomotion for some horses. It is not normal for hind feet to be square in the toe or for horses to drag them!

Some horses do not naturally move their limbs in a straight plane, even when the feet are well trimmed and balanced. A farrier can deliberately manipulate the trimming, balancing, and shoe placement to cause the horse to move as the owner desires. But remember if the natural hoof shape and therefore motion of the horse is altered it may be detrimental in the long run. Forcing a horse to travel straight if he has inherent limb faults can do damage to hard and soft tissues of the limbs and feet.

There are different styles of shoeing, some favoring squared toes. Little research is available to guide farriers on ideal toe shape. A horse may appear to move better or stay sound in the short term with squared toes. However this is not usually the natural contour of the white line and hoof wall, therefore this special shoeing style should only be applied to your horse with good reason. If your farrier cannot explain to you the reasons for this shoeing style, it might be worth leaving the toe of the foot more naturally shaped, which is round in front, pointy behind.

Horseshoes come in premade front and hind shapes. Less expensive shoes come in what is called a “compromise” pattern. Compromise shoes are designed to be changed in the forge into front and hind shapes. Some horses appear to have compromise-shaped feet, in other words, the feet don’t look like fronts or hinds but rather look exactly like these compromise shaped shoes. That makes it convenient for the farrier to nail on these shoes without changing their shape. But why are the feet this abnormal shape? The feet may be like this because the horse uses himself incorrectly. Or the feet may be like this because they have conformed to the compromise shoe shape. Over time the feet can change shape to fit the shoe. All farriers are taught to shape the shoe to the foot and not the foot to the shoe. But if your horse has abnormally shaped feet, one way your farrier can help encourage them to become normal again is to shoe with the correct shaped front and hind pattern shoes.


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

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