Introduction to Natural Hoof Care

“The November 2000 edition of the American Farrier’s Journal featured a piece by editor/publisher Frank Lessiter that described the findings of Walt Taylor, who is involved in the World Farrier’s Association. He provided these classifications of the equine population: Of the 122 million equines found in the world, only 10% are clinically sound, another 10% are clinically unsound, lame and unusable. The overwhelming majority of the horse population, 80% of all equines, are somewhat lame, but still usable”.

Only 10% are truly sound. Does this sound like the traditional way of hoof care is working? After all most lameness originates in the hoof.

Luca Bein, in his 1983 dissertation in Zurich, measured the shock absorption of barefoot, shod, and alternately shod horses. He concluded that a conventionally shod horse shows an absence of 60-80% of the hoof’s natural shock absorption. He demonstrated that “a shod foot on asphalt at a walk receives THREE TIMES the impact force as an unshod horse on asphalt at the trot.” Bein also found that a shoe vibrates at about 800 Hz, damaging living tissue.

In the high tech world we live in, we are just now starting to learn the true form and function of the horse’s hoof. Some of the brightest and best minds in the horse industry and universities are working in the field of equine podiatry and finding out why sixty-five million years of evolution has made the hoof what it is or should I say what it’s supposed to be.

Using techniques like MRI, doppler imaging, dye imaging, sensor pads, slow motion video, infrared, nuclear scintography, pressure transducers, accelerometers and some old fashion common sense, horses are showing us that the past practices by traditional farriers is not always in the horses best interest.

The fact that expansion and contraction of the hoof aids in the circulation of blood throughout the body and that the application of either a shoe or an improper trim can hinder this function, I feel, cannot be denied.

The raising of the back of the hoof, therefore the frog, off the ground by shoeing or trimming done by a traditional farrier can lead to the deterioration of the soft tissue that we now know is one of the shock absorbing aspects of the horse. I also feel that Dr. Robert Bowker’s findings that the filling and expulsion of blood during the impact and suspension phase of hoof movement, aids in the absorption of shock from ground impact (hemodynamics), and should be kept in the forefront of your farriers mind . I know some of you are saying that the tendons and ligament are for shock absorbing and you are correct. We must realize that there are different frequencies of energy and that some are harmful to live tissue. These frequencies are supposed to be displaced by the circulation of blood in the foot before it reaches soft tissue.  Once the deterioration of the back of the foot (due to lack of ground contact), leads to soreness of that area then toe first landing becomes the primary way of movement.

Toe first landing is not the way a horse should be moving. It shortens the stride. Is hard on joints throughout the body. Causes stretching and weakening of the laminae, damage to the coffin bone, navicular bone, damage to the deep digital flexor tendon, toe cracks and under run heels, less circulation in the hoof and interferes with the proprioceptors and the motor nerve function.  It also puts pressure on the navicular area and therefore more soreness in the hoof. Not to mention stress on the many other tendons and ligaments in the lower legs. Many feel that toe first landing is the primary cause of navicular bone deformities. In controlled studies, it has been found the only way a horse can produce navicular bone deformities is to instill a toe first landing.

Here in Delaware where the ground is flat, contains little rock or stone, and has a high sand content, the need for shoeing is over exaggerated. That is if you have a healthy hoof on your horse. If your hoof is deteriorated to the point where your frog is shriveled up and full of fungus or your horse has thin soles cracked walls or any other number of pathologies, then a shoe may help your horse move much better……for the time being. As time goes by and the soft tissue in the hoof capsule receives less and less pressure because of being lifted off the ground by the shoe or improper trimming and receives less and less blood because of restricted expansion and contraction, it is only a matter of time before even a shoe won’t cover up the pathology it once did.

At Delaware Natural Hoof Care we believe the natural form and function of the hoof is an absolute must for a truly long term sound horse. We let the sole grow in to create it’s own concavity. Never weakening the sole by carving it out to achieve the concavity that will come when the foot is ready willing and able. We don’t do just a plain flat trim as if we were going to put a shoe on. We apply an arch in the quarter area of the hoof wall in order to aid in proper expansion and contraction of the hoof itself. We apply what we call in the natural hoof care world a “Mustang Roll” to the hoof wall where it meets the ground.

We don’t believe in cutting the frog unless we are opening up an area that we feel is conducive to hiding and growing fungus. We feel that too much carving on the frog removes the outer callous, causes sensitivity (and therefor toe first landing)and can expose the frog to bacteria infection.  We also don’t believe in what we in the natural hoof care world think is a misconception that a horse needs to have so many degree angles on the fronts and so many degrees in the back. We follow the sole and let the horse tell us what the angle should be. Differences in conformation, the way the horse moves, and other variables I feel make the practice of just putting the same angle on every horse no longer serves it’s purpose. 

I also feel the horses hoof should be trimmed with the horse’s movement in mind. A trim that looks nice while standing on level concrete only represents the support phase of movement and is not very stressful on the hoof itself. The real stress of the hoof comes during the heel first impact and the break over phase of the stride. All three phases of the stride (landing, support, breakover) need to be kept in mind at all times. I want you to also remember that putting a straight hoof on a crooked leg is just as bad as putting a crooked hoof on a straight leg. Below are some articles that are more in depth and better explain my thoughts on natural hoof care. Thank you for visiting

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