The hoof is a critical part of a horse's anatomy, as it supports the weight of the entire animal and absorbs the impact of movement. A healthy hoof is essential for a horse's soundness and well-being, but when it becomes imbalanced, it can cause a range of problems that affect the horse's comfort, performance, and even its long-term health. As bodyworkers we like to see the horse have the support they need from the hooves up.
In this post, we'll discuss what causes hoof imbalances, how to recognize the symptoms, and what steps can be taken to treat them.
Causes of Hoof Imbalances
Hoof imbalances can result from a range of factors, including:
Poor Farriery: Improper trimming or shoeing can cause a hoof to become unbalanced. For example, leaving one side of the hoof longer than the other, keeping the toe or heel to long or applying a shoe that doesn't fit properly can cause the horse to shift its weight and move in this imbalance, leading to uneven wear and tear in the entire body.
Conformation: Some horses are born with conformational issues that can lead to hoof imbalances. For example, horses with a long back or a steep shoulder angle may be more prone to heel pain or toe first landing.
Injury: Trauma to the hoof or leg can cause an imbalance in the hoof. For example, a horse that develops lameness due to an injury may shift its weight, leading to uneven wear and tear.
Environmental Factors: Environmental factors such as overly wet or overly dry conditions, confined spaces or lack of variation in terrain can lead to hoof imbalances.
Symptoms of Hoof Imbalances
Symptoms of hoof imbalances may include:
Uneven wear on the hoof
A change in gait or lameness
Pain or sensitivity in the hoof or leg
Decreased performance or difficulty in training
Difficulty standing or balancing
Uneven shoe wear or loss of shoes
What to Look For
Get in the habit of checking hoof balance every time you pick up a leg. The best medicine is always prevention and training your eye to notice imbalances will help catch any issue before they become bigger issues, there are several things to look for:
Uneven wear: Examine the horse's hooves and look for any uneven wear patterns in the medial/lateral walls or heel heights. The landing surface should be even all around.
Uneven length: Check that the hooves are the same length, and the same height. Not sure? Get out that ruler and make sure. Measure the toe length from the coronet band down the middle of the front of the hoof. Measure the heel height from the hair line above the heel bulbs.
Hoof angle: Assess the angle of the hooves from the side for steep or shallow angles. Ideal hoof angles for a forelimb is about 50 degrees and for a hind limb, about 52 degrees.
Frog position: Look at the position of the frog, which is the triangular-shaped structure on the underside of the hoof. If it is not positioned in the center of the hoof, this may be an indication of an imbalance.
Gait: Observe the horse's gait, as a horse with an imbalanced hoof may show an uneven or irregular gait.
Palpation: Use your hands to feel for any tenderness or pain in the hoof, as this can also indicate an imbalance.
Treatment of Hoof Imbalances
Treatment for hoof imbalances depends on the cause and severity of the issue. In some cases, a simple change in trimming or shoeing may be all that's needed to correct the imbalance. In other cases, additional treatments such as medication or rehabilitation may be necessary.
Here are some steps that can be taken to treat hoof imbalances:
Proper Farriery: Ensure that your horse's hooves are regularly trimmed and/or shod by a qualified farrier who understands hoof balance.
Exercise: Movement is key to hoof health! Exercise can help improve hoof circulation, strength and promote proper balance.
Diet & Supplements: Diet plays a crucial role in hoof health. Ensure your horse is getting adequate nutrition and is on diet that reduces inflammation with adequate forage and minimal high starch feed. Certain supplements, such as biotin, can help improve hoof health and growth.
Environmental Management: Horse must be able to move over a variety of terrain that will aid in the development of a healthy strong hoof. Avoid overly soft or overly hard footing. Avoid consistently wet or consistently dry footing. The hoof is alive and dynamic and so should the horses environment be in order to stimulate the hoof to grow healthy, strong tissue.
Veterinary Care: If your horse is experiencing lameness or pain, seek veterinary care immediately. Your vet can perform a thorough examination and recommend appropriate treatments.
Hoof imbalances can be a serious issue for horses, but with proper management and treatment, they can be corrected. If you suspect that your horse may be experiencing a hoof imbalance, it's essential to seek veterinary care and work with a qualified farrier to develop a treatment plan. With a little extra attention and care, you can help ensure that your horse's hooves remain healthy and balanced for years to come.