How to judge hoof health

Posted: April 1st, 2008, by Melanie Merrow

There are many ways to judge how healthy your horses hooves are. The best way for horse owners to keep themselves aware of hoof changes in by measuring changes in the hoof and keeping track of them. The only equipment needed is a normal hoof pick and measuring tape, or a precision hoof pick similar to what I use in these pictures. Keep them handy in your grooming kit along with a small note pad and pen to note the measurements. Here are a few which I use regularily. Please keep in mind there is no cookie cutter measurements that will work for every horse.

tip33.jpgWe start with the two most important measurements to consider when asking yourself if you horse has healthy hooves: frog width (blue) and collateral groove depth (red) . A nice wide frog is key to impact recovery and heel soundness. The more ground contact you can get with the frog the better calloused it will be. Each horse is different, so there is no magic measurement for the frog. However, keeping track of changes, especially any narrowing (contraction) of the frog will alert you of any sudden problems. The collateral groove depth will help you know the thickness of the sole. Having 5/8″ to 1″ is within normal standards, but this can vary 1/8″ either way depending on hoof health, breed and living conditions. You will need to clean the hoof out well before taking any measurements of the collateral grooves in the heel area. Only measure up to the top of the bar in the heel area. You should also to measure the front collateral groove depth as a large difference in the two depths can indicate your horse may have, or be developing, laminitis.

tips11.jpgNext you should look at hoof width. Noticing changes in the width of the hoof can alert you to a hoof flare or contraction. This is a good measurement to keep track of – it will often stay the same on adult horses. You also measure the front collateral groove depth (dark blue) this way. This will help you know how much sole your horse has at the toe protecting the coffin bone.

tip2.jpgLastly we examine hoof length (green). The length of the hoof will help determine if the hoof has stretched forward, long toes or white line stretching. What is commonly recognized as “the white line” (dark blue) is not the actual white line you see in this picture. The true name name should be more like “translucent line” which is directly beside the white pigment hoof wall – I guess someone thought white line sounded better and I have to agree it is much easier to describe that way. The white line should be an even thickness all the way around the hoof. Hoof wall thickness (pink) is the only thing protecting the living tissue underneath.