WHAT IS A HEALTHY HOOF AND WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
If you are not already familiar with the basic anatomy and function of the hoof, please read first Anatomy and Function of the Hoof. This will help you to better understand this following article.
When we speak of healthy hooves, we usually think about a perfect image of a hoof or at least functional hooves.
However, there is no such thing as a perfect hoof. Just like in humans, horses’ feet differ vastly from horse to horse. There may be the perfect hoof for the individual horse, meaning the horn is healthy, the connection with the coffin bone is tight and strong, the balance of the hoof matches the rest of the horse’s body and allows for maximum movement, and the size of the hoof is ample for the size of the horse. But that specific hoof might not be at all perfect for another horse.
And a functional hoof may serve the horse, but must not necessarily be healthy throughout or be optimal for the horse.
In addition, hooves change all the time: be it because of the weather, the time of year, the diet or the amount of exercise.
In order to know what healthy means, we also need to know what is not healthy. Since there exist a whole lot more unhealthy feet than healthy ones, one has a wide field of study available. Also, because so many horses have unhealthy feet, they are often regarded as the norm and not recognized as unhealthy.
In this article I will show some unhealthy feet, but for an in-depth discussion please go to this link Unhealthy Hooves .
There are different kinds of horn to consider:
The wall horn
Healthy wall horn is smooth, growth rings are hardly visible, it has a natural and shiny coating almost looking a bit like lacquer
(this coating is usually absent in very abrasive terrain). There are no chips or cracks visible, and all horn tubules run in a straight line parallel toward the ground.
The outer wall horn is produced by the coronary band, where live papillae keep producing horn around themselves which is then cemented together by intertubular horn. These horn tubules are very visible to the naked eye. The outermost layer of the wall is the most strong and dense part of the wall as it contains a larger number of tubules. The further toward the white line, the fewer the tubules and the softer and weaker the horn. This is a very important feature, as the outside of the wall protects against the environment, while the softer inner wall can flex and give and accommodate the somewhat flexible connection with the coffin bone.
The inner wall horn is produced by the lamellae that also produce the white line horn. As the outer wall grows down from the top, the inner wall constantly grows from the lamellae outward and joins the outer wall horn. To my knowledge, nobody as of yet fully understands how this process works. It is an incredible engineering feat.
Fig. 1 shows the healthy shine of the hoof surface. Also observe the smoothness of the wall and the arrangement of the horn tubules, which is very easy to see due to the coloration of this hoof. The toe wall is perfectly straight, the heels are short and fully supportive of the back part of the foot.
Fig. 2 shows a rough terrain hoof. Notice how worn the surface of the hoof capsule is. Also note how far up the wall has been abraded into a strong mustang roll. This feature is not apparent in Fig. 1 as that hoof only traverses turf and hard road surfaces. This also is a very healthy and strong looking foot.