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Domestication, in most instances, greatly impacts a horse’s natural lifestyle.  Horses were born to live in social groups, moving up to twenty miles a day over harsh and varied terrain and feeding constantly on the sparse dry forage of their environment.  These dynamics support an overall healthy horse and develop and maintain the sturdy and sound “wild hoof” we strive for.  Note, no studies of wild horses have documented finding contracted heels, flaring, founder, navicular syndrome, thrush, wall cracks, white line disease and most other hoof disorders that are common in our domestic horses.


Overall, a healthy and natural hoof form exhibits a strong and calloused sole, relatively low heels with bars gradually descending towards a wide and robust frog, strong digital cushion development and a relatively short toe length with a thick rolled hoof wall (“mustang roll”).  All of these components work together to bear a horses weight and withstand impact and constant contact with their terrain.


The health of a hoof is a window into the overall health of a horse.  The distance between healthy and unhealthy appears to be directly related to how out of balance a horse’s mental and physical well being is. 


It is important to be knowledgeable and aware of what proper and healthy, versus improper and unhealthy, hoof forms are so that the latter can be addressed and corrected.  Following are some examples of both.




Proper and Healthy Hoof Form

Appropriately Concave Sole

The bottom surface of a horse’s coffin bone is cupped or concave in appearance. Horses with healthy feet that are allowed to function as nature intended will develop an amount of concavity relative to their terrain, living environment and the degree of concavity in their individual coffin bone. While one could carve a hoof into a concave shape, this can be a dangerous venture and painful for the horse if a particular horse’s natural hoof shape is not respected. Photo by Asa Nuttal

Appropriate and Balanced Heel Height

Horses were designed to land heel first. The back portion of the hoof has an amazing support and shock absorbing system. A horse that lands toe first is either unwilling to weight the back of the foot due to pain or there are mechanical forces dictating a toe first landing (such as a very high heel). Heels are all about use it or lose it (but can be redeveloped and strengthened if brought back into proper use). Photo by Asa Nuttal

Wide and Robust Frog

On a healthy hoof, the frogs are meant to be robust and wide.  They share the load of all the other weight bearing components of the hoof and thrive on ground contact. Photo by Asa Nuttal


Digital Cushion Development

Dissections of wild horse feet have found that dense, energy dissipating fibro-cartilage makes up the digital cushion of a well developed hoof. Whereas on a typical domestic foot, the digital cushion consists mainly of fatty tissue. A foal is born with this fatty tissue that is intended to be developed into dense and tough fibro-cartilage through movement, movement, movement over varied terrain. Compare the Digital Cushion development (section to the left of the coffin bone) on the left (domestic horse) to the same section on the hoof to the right (wild horse). Photo by Sossity Gargiulo

Appropriate Toe Length

The horses natural breakover is meant to occur over a short toe to remove leveraging forces from the toe wall, lamina all the way back to the heels.  It also relieves strain on the tendons and ligaments of the leg, moves the bony column back under the horse and stabilizes the navicular bone. Photo By Claudia Beutel

White Line Integrity (or Tight White Line)

The “white line” is the lamina in a hoof.  The lamina connects the protective outer layering of the hoof (the hoof wall) to the sensitive internal structures of the hoof.  A horse’s lamina is a naturally thin line of a Velcro like attachment that is amazingly strong.  It almost literally cannot be physically separated from the hoof wall unless it becomes weakened or “stretched”. Photo By Sossity Gargiulo

Improper and Unhealthy Hoof Form

Stress Rings

Factors causing stress rings include but are not limited to: illness (high fever), vaccinations, a change in feed, trailering, metabolic distress, body pain, mental stress, etc. Photo By Leslie Carig

High Heels

High heels negatively impact proper biomechanical movement, can force a toe first landing, weaken the lamina and eventually change the position of the internal structures (i.e. coffin bone).

Under Run Heels

A heel is called “under run” when the horse stops walking on the bottom of the heel and begins to walk on the back of what appears to be a collapsed heel. As the heel follows and stretches towards what is typically too long of a toe, the heels become progressively weaker and are flattened by the weight of the horse. Also, under run heels throw the center of balance forward instead of straight up the middle of the leg.

Contracted Heels

A foot with contracted heels has heel buttresses closer together than normal. Contracted heels can be caused when the heels are not bearing their share of a horses weight due to heel pain because of thrush and/or lack of use, irregular and improper shoeing and/or trimming.

Stretched White Line

A stretched white line is a result of the lamina being pulled away from the hoof wall. This can happen if the wall becomes too long and the weight of the horse pulls the wall away from the hoof. This can also be the result of a metabolic issue causing inflammation of the lamina and weakening the integrity of the lamina connecting the hoof wall to the inner structures.

Long Toes

Long toes put stress on the lamina causing a breakdown in the integrity. They also put unnatural stress on the tendons and ligaments as the biomechanics of proper movement are compromised.  

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