The Perfect Hoof

By Susanella Noble

The Perfect Hoof                                                  Published in Malama Lio, Hawai'i's Horse Journal

The perfect hoof functions optimally and is free of distortions. Black or white, the perfect hoof can be found on all equines from Arabians to zebras, domestic to feral. Over millions of years the horse evolved from a multi-toed little critter into this most glorious, ungulate creature with single, most perfect hooves.

Modern equine science has proven that Mother Nature gave horses the perfect feet for all climates and terrains. When the hoof wears down naturally or is shaped correctly by humans it stimulates enough growth to keep the horse 100% sound and sure-footed on sharp rocks and asphalt with stamina to spare.
Progressive race trainers in England are now running their steeplechase and flat race horses barefoot, and they are winning with more stamina and ahve more longevity than horses that wear tranditional shoes.

External View
The shape of the hoof's exterior mirrors the interior anatomy. Our models are the wild horses of the world from Mongolia to the volcanic mountains of Nevada. Feral horses have low heels, huge frogs and short, rounded toes (the breakover). Viewed from the side, the hoof is conical in shape, widening slightly from the coronary band to the ground.

The solar plane

As seen from the bottom of the foot (the solar plane), the widest part of the Foot is ¾ to 1" behind the apex of the frog. Frogs are the key to good feet and are tough as rawhide. They are widest at the heels with a central groove  (sulcus) and taper forward to a rounded apex (point). The frogs must hit the ground before the heels and sole to function properly.The back of the frog hits the ground first with direct but passive contact which pumps the blood through the circumflex arteries. It has many pro-receptors that send messages through the nervous system to regulate hoof growth and make the horse sure-footed. The heel bulbs (buttresses) are low to the ground and curve slightly inward. Tthe buttresses are flat and turn back to become the bars which descend towards the frog and terminate at the widest part of the foot. The live epidermal sole tissue is concave; it is deepest at the tip of the frog and angles out towards the hoof wall. The sole callus, a tough ridge of epidermal tissue, protects internal structures, including the coffin bone and arteries.

The hoof wall

The horn of the hoof walls is hard enough to protect the inner structure yet the cells are sensitive to serious insults such as impact or nails.  In a natural hoof,  the hoof wall wears down almost to the level of the sole callus and is meant to share the weight, not carry it all. In the wild it wears off at the toe to allow the foot to break over quickly and relieve the vertical pressure.

The perfect hoof uses all its collective parts to absorb impact while sensing the ground. Dr. Robert Bowker D.V.M. identified the heel-first landing as the most important element of foot function and development.
The hoof expands when it loads while the frog and sole flatten with the filling of blood. The hoof contracts when in the air, pumping the blood back to the heart and expelling dirt, much like an ice cream scoop, thus giving the natural hoof excellent traction.

Trimming for the natural hoof

Your horse should be trimmed with large frogs so his feet land with the wide heels of the frogs touching the ground before the toes.  There should be no flares on the hoof walls.
Shoes elevate the frogs off the ground,  which restricts blood circulation and puts all the weight on the hoof wall. Metal doesn’t allow the hoof to naturally expand and contract, resulting in contracted heels, thrush and laminitis. Flares on the outside of the hoof indicate internal distortions! If your horse has shoes and you want to give him back his natural feet, it must be a gradual process. When hooves are shaped correctly they can toughen up enough in a few weeks to let the horse confidently go barefoot on rocks and cinders. Hoof boots can be a good tool in the transition but they must be correctly fitted.

Susanella Noble, CNBBT, is a Certified Natural Balance Barefoot Trimmer living on the Big Island.



Photo captions:

#1 At 19+ hands, Zeus proves that giant horses can go barefoot in Hawaii and be sound on cinders and rocks. His owner, Pam, shapes his hooves herself. They are so hard that she needs to soak them in water before rasping.

#2 Zeus has wide, tough frogs; his sole callus ridge is like iron and more than 50% of his hoof is behind the Widest Part of the Foot which is his landing surface. When in motion, Zeus lifts into the air and floats over the rocks with confidence.

#3 The surface of his wall is smooth and free of distortions with a round break over at the toe. The scar on his pastern is a result of ill-fitted hoof boots but his perfect hooves helped to heal the wound by providing good circulation.