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Feet & Shoeing

 How to Care For a Horses Foot?

How important is Shoeing?

The outside of the horse's foot is made up of horny tissue. Although it is still growing, it is insensitive. Because of this, nails can be driven into the wall so that shoes can be attached.

The foot can be divided into several recognisable parts. (See Figs. 4.1 and 4.2) These include:

The Wall

The wall is about 12 mm thick. It is thicker at the toes than at the heels. The outer wall of the hoof is also known as the PERIOPLE. It is a thin veneer of horn similar to a layer of varnish. It protects the hoof from loss of moisture and damage.

The wall grows down continuously from the coronet at about 0.5 cm per month. It takes 9-12 months to grow a completely new hoof. The wall is the major weight bearing structure of the hoof.

The wall is thickest at the toe and thinnest at the heels: allowing them to expand when the foot bears weight.

The Sole

This is made up of similar material to that of the wall but it is not designed for bearing weight except at the edges. There are two layers of sole:

(1) The outer or insensitive layer.

(2) The inner or sensitive layer.

This inner layer feeds the outer layer which constantly flakes away. The flakes should not be pared or cut away unnecessarily because it lessens the ability of the insensitive sole to protect the sensitive sole. Excessive pressure on parts of the sole leads to bruising, often called corns.

The Frog

The frog is also made up of horn but it is tough and elastic. This is the softest of the three horny tissues. The frog has four main uses:

(1) It is the shock absorber of the feet.

(2) It acts as an anti‑slip device because of its wedge shape.

(3) It expands the heels. When the feet comes to the ground, the frog bulgers outwards, makes the heels spread and this disperses the shock of impact outwards.

(4) It helps with blood circulation. It squeezes the sensitive inner parts of the foot against the insensitive horn which pumps the blood up the lower leg. If there is not much pressure on the frog the blood circulation is slowed.

If the frog is in contact with the ground it is kept well and healthy. When it is not in use it shrivels and dies.

The Bars

These are a continuation of the wall at the heel. They turn inward at the heel and travel up to the frog where they merge with the sole.

The White Line

This is a narrow, waxy strip of horn between the wall and the sole. Nails hammered in to the wall during shoeing must not cross this white line. If they do, the horse will feel pain.

The Coronary Groove

This is a cavity running around the top of the wall. The cavity contains a large number of tiny holes which are the beginning of the horny wall. The periople is secreted from this cavity. The wall grows down from the coronet to the toe so if an injury occurs here, hoof damage may be seen later.

Inside the foot is a complex arrangement of bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilages, nerves and blood supply. All of these components are easily damaged if the horse moves badly, is worked too hard or is shod carelessly.

The parts of the hoof have been divided into the toe region, the quarters (or sides) and the heel region.


Like our fingernails, horses' hooves grow constantly. The direction of growth is downwards to the toe. As the hoof wears away from contact with the ground, new horn is being formed to take its place.

If the horse lived in natural conditions, the amount of new horn produced would match the amount of old horn worn away. The horse today lives in unnatural conditions and so handlers have to decide whether the conditions underfoot are too harsh or too soft. If the ground being worked on is harsh, for example, dry fields or tarred roads, too much horn will be worn away for the new horn to adequately replace it. This horse should be fitted with shoes to protect the hooves from excessive wear. Shoeing is dealt with later in this lecture.

If the conditions underfoot are soft, too little of the horn will wear away so that the hoof will grow to an unhealthy, overlong shape. This will interfere with the horse's action and make him stumble.

To keep the horse's foot in a good shape, hooves should be trimmed every four to six weeks. If the horse wears shoes the hooves must still be trimmed this often as the horn will be protected from wear and thus grow too long. The way hooves are trimmed by a farrier is explained later in this lecture in the section called "How the Horse is Shod".

To Shoe or Not To Shoe?

It is possible to work a horse without shoes as long as the conditions underfoot are soft. In this country, it is difficult to avoid hard ground especially on outrides. If you are fortunate enough to have access to beaches or other yielding exercise surfaces, and if your horse has strong, non‑brittle hooves, you will be able to save on shoeing. Trimming must be done regularly, however.

If the exercise conditions are hard or if your horse has brittle or weak feet, shoeing will be essential.

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