Help! What does a healthy hoof look like?

by Yvonne Welz ©2006

We have three simple requirements for a successfully barefooted horse in the end result: 1) The horse is sound, 2) has functional hoof form, 3) and the hooves do not deteriorate in any way over time.

We spend a lot of time looking at unhealthy feet. The majority of hooves that surround us, whether in real life or in photographs, are NOT healthy—some are worse than others, but most are suffering from some form of deformity. This deformity of the average hoof has become so widespread that contraction is now accepted as the “normal” standard of the hoof, as depicted in today’s veterinary textbooks.

Here are some examples of HEALTHY hooves. Not all these hooves are absolutely perfect (yet), and some may need trimming adjustments, but these hooves are pretty close to ideal that we should be striving for. Not all hooves can be expected to reach ideal form - some severely deformed hooves may never fully recover. Nonetheless, all hooves can improve and become functional again.

Note: Healthy hooves may look different, depending on the terrain and environment that shapes them. Horses from wetter climates will often have a wider hoof form; horses from desert climates will often display a tighter hoof form, with more rounded edges and steeper overall shape. Trimming styles can direct hooves in one way or another, but climate still plays a vital role in hoof form.

**Special note: this article will be updated with new photos soon - while the below photos are healthy hooves, there are healthier ways to trim. Some of the photos show trimming that allows for too much peripheral loading, or too much sole removed. So keep in mind that while these photos below are healthy hooves, the trimming techniques could be improved. For more healthy examples, please visit the Hoof Gallery.


Healthy front hoof.

Healthy front hoof - Photo courtesy Lisa Simons Lancaster.

"Hoof Mechanism" - The healthy hoof has functional hoof form, and expands upon weightbearing. The alternation of expanded hoof form on weightbearing to narrowed hoof form during the flight phase of the hoof (“hoof mechanism”) constitutes the pumping mechanism that aids the circulatory system and the heart, as well as transforming 60-80% of impact forces in a biological shock absorption system; this can only function properly with correct hoof shape.

Healthy hind hoof - Photo courtesy Dr. Strasser & Sabine Kells.

Above: Solar view of an uncontracted hind hoof. The weightbearing points of the heels lie outside a line from the frog apex to the outer curve of the bulb. Note that the trimmed bars also lie along this line.

Healthy front hoof.

Healthy front hoof.

Healthy front hoof - Photo courtesy Pete Ramey

Healthy hind hoof, Photo courtesy Dr. Strasser & Sabine Kells.

Healthy hind hoof, Photo courtesy Dr. Strasser & Sabine Kells.

Healthy hind hoof, Photo courtesy Francie Boland.

Healthy hind hoof.

Healthy hind hoof, Photo courtesy Lisa Simons Lancaster.

Below: Hard-hooved healthy hooves on hard, dry terrain.

Above: Right Front

Above: Left Hind

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©2006 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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