Hoof Angles – Part 6

In the last installment, I introduced you to one of my clients with very mismatched front hooves, with a promise that I’d explain the “why” of her radically-different hoof angles in the next article. Well, it’s time to do exactly that!

One of my best early lessons on cause and effect with respect to hoof form came from Carol Brett, co-founder and co-owner of BALANCE saddles in the UK. In her saddle-fitting clinics, Carol pointed out that any restriction in a horse’s shoulders will cause a hoof to become more upright i.e. “clubby.”

Newborn Foal Hoof

Newborn Foal Hoof

That really struck home with me, because before that time, I (like most of the horse world) had fallen into the trap of believing that hoof form dictated movement, rather than the other way ’round. But what she said was logical; if the hoof spends more time “under the horse,” rather than experiencing its full range of motion, it makes sense that it’ll compensate by changing form into something better suited to supporting a smaller range of motion. The foal shown above, born just a few hours before this photo was taken, has a very upright hoof because she’s not yet moved enough to have the hoof start showing changes in form that optimize her movement. Form always follows function!

I’ve now seen examples of Carol’s statements countless times. That’s not to say it’s the only reason a hoof may be more upright, but it’s definitely one very common reason. The same idea applies to M/L (side-to-side) balance as well; the more a horse carries his or her hoof towards the mid-line of the body, the more upright the lateral (“outer”) wall will be and the more angled the medial (“inner”) wall will be.

In the case of my client’s horse, there are several forces at work that cause one hoof to be more upright. For one, she paws with that hoof, and pawing seems to promote an upright hoof capsule. She also grazes in the same position every day: the upright hoof behind and the other hoof in front. Again, that stance makes for mismatched feet. And, she has some stifle issues on one side, which probably cause some degree of asymmetry to her gait, and, therefore, to her hooves. Could there be other factors at work as well – maybe a congenital tendon and/or ligament condition causing a more upright hoof? It’s certainly possible, but since I haven’t known the horse since birth, I can’t really say.

Regardless of the causes, this horse’s feet are sound. And any attempt to “fix” what amounts to a cosmetic – not a functional – problem by trimming into live tissue  is only going to make her lame until she regrows exactly the same hoof again!

It’s not always the case, however, that a pair of hooves like this is supposed to be mismatched. That has to be sorted out over the course of several trims. I’ll give you an example of what I mean…

A few years ago, I started helping the trainer at an American Saddlebred farm transition all of their horses to barefoot. One horse in particular stood out because he had horribly mismatched hooves – probably worse than the horse we’ve been discussing. The trainer explained to me that it’s common for Saddlebreds to have radically different feet, and that he used a wedge pad to make the hooves match and the shoulders the same height. My only response was “uh huh,” which is short for “Steve doesn’t yet have enough data to either agree or disagree”! And so I proceeded to trim each hoof as an individual, just as I always do.

A few months and trims later, along with a lot of instruction, the trainer took over all of the trimming, which was the original goal. I visited him about 6 months after that, and he pulled out the same mismatched horse. Except now, the horse’s feet were obviously a matched set. “You know,” the trainer said, “there really wasn’t anything wrong with his feet after all! They’d just been mis-trimmed before you started doing him, and you got him straightened out!”

I just smiled.