Signs of an unhealthy hoof and orthopaedic imbalance
The hoof is under constant pressure when accomplishing its multiple functions as a shock absorber, protector of the internal architecture of the hoof and supporter of the weight of the horse. This pressure is amplified once the horse is at work with a rider.
The system works best when the forces travel through the body in correct alignment. However, an imbalance in these forces can and will cause a breakdown or reactionary misalignment in the internal structure of the hoof. Many of the responses to this pressure can be found through a close examination of the external foot structure.
A healthy hoof should be symmetrical in shape with a smooth even cone shape exterior wall. The sole should be concave from the outer wall to the junction of the apex of the frog and sole. The white line should be opaque in colour with an even width around the circumference of the wall and finish two-thirds the way down the length of the frog.
The sole of the hoof should connect to the white line at the same height as the hoof wall and the bars are to be straight and in line with the frog. The frog is to be a healthy wedge or triangle shape whose ground surface finishes just below (viewed from underneath) the level of the heels.
These are the signs of a healthy hoof. If this changes then there is usually a reason why, and it is up to us to determine what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how to go about correcting it and returning the hoof back to a healthy state.
There are many signs of imbalance to look for in a hoof and not just the hoof and pastern axis analysis.
What are the signs in the hoof of misalignment?
- concave or convexed hoof walls
- flares in the hoof wall
- misalignment of coronet line (pushed up or waves)
- shelly hoof walls
- cracks in hoof walls (stress cracks)
- bleeding from coronet band
- heel bulbs extending out the back
- underrun heels
- distal cartilage alignment
The external signs that we can see when viewing the hoof on the ground are only telling us half the story. We must look closely at the pathological changes-taking place in the hoof. Changes such as:
- hoof shape
- texture (hoof, sole, frog, white line)
- pigmentation changes (white line, frog, sole)
- frog shape
- extra layering down of sole
- hoof capsule thickness and wear
- abnormal fusing of frog and sole
- bruising or bleeding through the sole or white line
- size of white line
- Sole alignment with the white line and wall.
All the above signs start to give us an in-depth checking system as to the healthiness and correct alignment of the internal structure of the hoof.
"Unfortunately, the problem in the foot is just the start of it. The effects of how the animal deals with these issues are seen throughout the entire horse, as changes in the orthopaedic balance."
These changes can be subtle movement patterns to avoid pain along with dramatic changes in locomotion, performance and behaviour. The clues to how the equine copes with foot problems are found throughout the animal’s body and careful examination of the changing muscular tension is needed in association with the hoof pathology.
To understand the complex structural and functional podiatry problem the podiatrist should rely on identifying external pathology of the foot, looking at the texture, size, colour, shape and alignment of each section of the foot and ensuring it is coping with the stresses placed upon it. Considering how and why the problem has occurred and understanding the response of the horse is one of the keys to a broad range of equine problems.