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  • Writer's picturePositive Roots Equine

No Hoof, No Horse Part 1: Important Hoof Functions

The equine hoof is a marvel of engineering, a complex structure designed to support the horse's weight, absorb shock, and facilitate movement across various terrains. While many horse owners recognize the potential negative impacts of unhealthy hooves, the intricacies of how a healthy hoof functions are often overlooked. In this blog post, we will explore some important functions of the equine hoof that you might not have considered.

 

Circulation

Each of the four hooves essentially acts as a pump, helping to circulate blood back up the horse's legs. Critical to this function is the hoof's ability to expand and contract. As the hoof flattens slightly under load, it draws blood in, and when the load is released, it contracts, aiding in blood circulation.  Traditional metal shoes can impede this mechanism by restricting the hoof's natural movement, as the hoof is essentially “frozen” into one state, whereas composite shoes offer a compromise by allowing some expansion and contraction.

 

Shock absorption

The digital cushion and the frog play crucial roles in shock absorption within the equine hoof. Additionally, the contraction and expansion of the hoof assist in absorbing shock and dissipating forces. Ideally, the horse should land heel first, allowing the shock absorption system to function optimally. However, conditions such as atrophy or thrush can compromise this system, leading to a toe-first landing and potential issues.  A common side effect of open heeled metal shoes is atrophy of this system, as it is prevented from touching the ground and developing. However, because the system is atrophied, it can be painful for the horse when the shoes are removed. Pads or composite shoes can provide a middle ground, supporting the development of the frog and digital cushion while offering protection and support.

 

Proprioception

Equine hooves are designed to help horses navigate various terrains, including rocky and treacherous ones. Nerve endings in their feet, especially above the frog and heels, create a feedback system that allows the horse to sense where their feet are. Dr. Tomas Teskey DVM highlights the importance of this feedback system, noting that, “horses with steel shoes are handicapped when it comes to detecting bad steps and poor footing, and suffer a much higher incidence of bruising, nail punctures and catastrophic injuries versus healthy barefoot horses. They simply can’t get the vital feedback quickly enough to take care of themselves properly.”


The equine hoof serves many functions, and it is our responsibility as equine caretakers to ensure that we help their hooves function optimally by enhancing rather than impeding their function. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will cover easy checks equine owners can do to assess their horse's hoof health.


If hoof care has been an area of struggle for you and your equine, whether due to past negative experiences or other reasons, please don't hesitate to reach out! I offer training, both in-person and virtually, to help your horse become a willing and happy participant in their hoof care routine.

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