Thursday, March 24, 2011

Optimal hooves: Shape

Is anybody interested in learning more about hooves with me? I've been doing some pretty in-depth research for the past couple of months and have learned LOTS. Thing is, I don't want to keep all this knowledge to myself. This post is a bit of an experiment, if you like it and would like me to do more, let me know and I'll keep going. I've got lots to write about.

Remember - even though the information that I'm going to post is based on barefoot research - a hoof is a hoof and this knowledge applies even if you put shoes on your horse.

I'm going to start with what the optimal hoof shape is supposed to be:

Front hooves are supposed to be round. 
They should NOT be oblong.

This is Gwen's left fore as an example, notice how round it is. I know this hoof is far from perfect- I've been battling thrush with her too and her bars have gotten away from me- but I want you to ignore that for now and just focus on the shape. If you superimpose a circle around her foot, from the arc of her heel and frog purchase to her toe, you'd see that her foot would fit pretty neatly inside of it. This is what you should look for in a front foot, barefoot or shod, a shape like this ensures optimum breakover and gives your horse the ability to stride out correctly.

Hind hooves are shaped like a spade. 
They should NOT be round.

Once again,not a great foot as far as the frog and bars go, but her hoof shape is pretty spot on. When you think about how horses are supposed to move, essentially by rear-wheel drive, it makes sense that the hind hooves should be shaped this way. They need a bit of extra traction to get the horse moving. Hind hooves should not be rounded off to look like front feet.

Now I know what you might be thinking, "Shannon how could you possibly make a generalization like this? I've seen plenty of different shaped hooves and they work just fine." My reply is that the proof is in the coffin bone.

The top bone in the photo is from a front foot, the bottom is from a hind. See how the top one is basically round and the bottom one is spade shaped? (They are shaped like half moons because the back of the foot is shaped by soft tissue, not bone.) Since the hoof wall grows around these bones doesn't it make sense that it should mirror the shape of the bones?

Need more examples? How about these specimens of front coffin bones?

photo from ABC Hoofcare
Some variation is to be expected but, for the most part, the basic shape is round. There are instances where the coffin bones aren't shaped like this- be it by birth-defect, accident, or degradation due to poor hoof maintenance and diet- but I'd expect that the number of horses affected by those instances is so small that it's statistically insignificant.

What about your horses? What are their hooves shaped like?


  1. Pie has perfect feet (of course!) Drifter's are OK but he badly needs a trim so I can't accurately see the shape. Dawn's are also very nicely shaped.

  2. My gelding has wonderful feet... he's been barefoot his whole life and they really look nice. My mare, on the other hand, has really nice shaped back feet but the front ones are all sorts of messed up. We've been going through a lot of hoof issues, though, so hopefully before too long we'll be back on track.

  3. Oh me, I want to learn more! Due to her high/low syndrome, Dee has one round foot and one narrower foot. The foot that tends toward the higher heel is slightly contracted, while the low heeled foot is nice and round. Her back feet are both nice little spades.

  4. My gelding who broke his P3 has been getting a little more contracted on that hoof, which I assume is from not putting as much weight on it. He used to have nice round fronts like that--and spades in the back. That was a good way to put it. Nice post.

  5. My little filly has nice round front hooves and spade back hooves. My mare is having some problem being very far back on her heels in the front. I know her back feet are spades and I'm thinking her fronts are fairly round.

  6. Oh that's excellent, yay for horses with nice feet!

    Okay, if everyone is interested I'll keep going with these posts. Now I just have to figure out a way to keep them concise, on track, and - most importantly - interesting!

  7. Interesting! Jetta has very round front feet and more spade-like hind feet. Nice!

  8. At this point all of our horses have the best feet they can have. Dusty's coffin bone injury is healing nicely. Grady was such an absolute mess when he got her over a year ago he could hardly walk. Between my daughter and the excellent farrier we have his feet are now almost 100%.

    I think your posts are very informative and easy to understand. Thanks, we should all know about our horses feet.

  9. Well..I'm hoof obsessed.
    However, I didn't really know that the hind should be spade shaped. Interesting and maybe bonus for us being, Laz's sort of are. his fronts are round for sure. I love your posts on this!!! LOVE

    1. I once told a friend of mine that i was "hoof abscessed"... then i sighed and face-palmed. ;P

  10. Great post! I get so irritated when I see people trying to trim the back feet into a circle. This explains exactly why the fronts and the backs should be different. Great job!