What do unhealthy hooves look like?
To start with, this hoof is very small and contracted with a squared off toe underneath custom shoes. The sole is completely flat, the frog is pinched in and the quarters are flared badly. These so called Natural Balance shoes are about the last thing on the planet that is natural. Farriers will often apply these shoes by cutting the toe past the white line, too far in most cases. This throws off the horses’ break over and balance. Natural Balance shoes are kind of like a diet Quarter pounder – the two just do not go together!
Notice how “pinched” the back of the hoof appears? There is no frog support, the heels are contracted and run under. The angle from the center of the hairline to the back of the heels is very sharp – the hoof cannot flex or function well in this state. Why are contracted heels so common? I believe a hoof that is working properly will flex and shoes stay on better if the hoof does not flex. As a result, shoeing has become a practice of keeping shoes on and not maintaining a healthy hoof. Most horse shoeing schools I have been in contact with teach very little about bars / heels and instead focus on forge work and nailing.
For reference, the shoes of this horse were put on four weeks before these photos were taken. They show a number of flare related issues which were not corrected during shoeing. Uneven pressure from flares should be corrected with every trim. The hoof should be equal on both sides, not off to one side like this hoof. This might have been done as a result of conventional farrier work to correct a conformation fault, toeing in / out or “leveling a horses leg”. An unbalanced hoof will cause uneven internal pressure on the bones, tendons and entire body of the horse.
Another case of high, contracted heels with no frog support. Can you see the square appearance to the back of the hoof? Notice the pinched in heels? Often in conventional farrier work, having a level toe to heel surface to nail into on the hoof is the only priority. This leaves the heels and bars to grow out of control. The frog is the hoofs heart and needs to have surface contact in order to pump the blood back up the leg.
The white, chalky sole and frog with wall separation are due to the horses diet and lack of movement. This is the hoof of an Arab gelding whose main diet is alfala cubes and lives in a small grass paddock. Diet plays a huge role in the health of a hoof. A chalky frog and sole could also mean the horse lives on footing that is too soft, and the hoof is not being worn naturally. Adding a finer grade of gravel plus sand to spots of the paddock would help. Spreading out small amounts of hay all around the paddock to force the horse to move more would also help.
Pinched heels from the inside, this is a view of the back of a hoof. Notice how the bars dig up the hoof capsule? A contracted hoof will push up on the internal components causing a horse allot of pain. Just try to imagine if the hoof was correct how the frog and bars would widen and flatten out. The lateral cartilages have less room in a contracted hoof causing the heel bulbs to look pinched in.
This hoof is very unbalanced. Notice how the hairline drops down on the right side? That is because the left hoof wall has been left longer than the right. The entire balance of the horse and it’s movement will be effected with a hoof like this. Also the hoof wall has been rasped down at the toe shown by the color pattern. Rasping the wall will cause it to be thin and brittle. Look at the growth lines and you can see this is a normal trim for this horse, constantly unbalanced in shoes so the horse is unable to wear a normal hoof.