Quick Reference Guide: What is Hoof Contraction?

by James & Yvonne Welz ©2008

These Quick Reference Guide pages were created to provide a photo resource to help horseowners identify some of the most common hoof problems.

Here is a very contracted hoof:

A hoof is very contracted when the overall shape is long and narrow, the heel purchase areas are close together (top arrows), and the heel bulbs are close together and form a deep pucker that looks like butt-cheeks (bottom arrow). Some horses can have a wide middle to their hoof, yet have the heel purchases close together; that is usually referred to as "heel contraction." The majority of horses with contracted hooves have some contraction in all areas.

This hoof may look like a drastic example of contraction, but is pretty typical of the appearance of most hooves upon deshoeing. You can even see examples of similarly contracted hooves proudly displayed in magazine ads, catalogs, and photo close-ups of top competition and even Olympic-level horses. Surprisingly, to many people, this hoof will look totally normal! This is not normal, this is pathological.

This hoof is very unhealthy, due to the diminished blood flow inside the hoof, and the deformity of the internal hoof structures. This horse is most likely lame (meaning that he cannot walk barefoot upon the ground comfortably and heel-first). Even if he is not yet showing lameness or other symptoms, he has probably begun the changes towards both navicular syndrome and founder. These changes don't happen quickly, they happen slowly - a degeneration over the years - further exacerbated by any treatment that alleviates the pain (shoeing, pads, drugs, etc.) but fails to recognize and remedy the cause of the problem: the contraction of the hoof.

Here is a normal, healthy hoof that is not contracted:

This hoof belongs to a horse that has never worn shoes. This hoof is ROUND, equal width and length. Notice how far apart the heel purchase areas are (top arrows) and how far apart the heel bulbs are. Notice the wide space (bottom arrow) in between the two heel bulb points - no resemblance to butt-cheeks!

This is a healthy hoof that is not contracted. ALL HOOVES should should look similar to this, with the above-mentioned features. This is what constitutes a healthy, functioning equine hoof, as defined by nature, and not by man.

Now, side by side:

A contracted hoof, and a normal, healthy hoof.

©2008 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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