If you are an equine lover, and you are passionate about horses, then you may think you know everything about them. But, how much do you know about horse hoof anatomy? A horse’s hooves are vital to their health and wellbeing. This is why it is so important that you ensure that your horse’s hooves are properly cared for and maintained at all times.
Why You Need To Know About Horse Hoof Anatomy
A horse’s hooves are essential to the creature’s overall wellbeing. Not only do the hooves play a key role in their ability to move and their mobility, but they also help bring extra support when it comes to the horse’s balance, movements, and day-to-day tasks.
Horse hooves, despite looking hard and sturdy, are very much like fingernails, and are built up of the same protein called keratin. As a result, they need to be trimmed and filed, in order to keep them properly maintained so that there is no discomfort for the animal.
In addition, the hooves support the weight of the animal and help distribute this weight and energy when the horse moves, and the hoof strikes the ground when they walk. Without proper hoof maintenance, the hooves and tissues in the horse’s feet will not be protected, and the horse may not have enough traction or support when moving.
Horse Hoof Anatomy – Overview
When it comes to horse hoof anatomy, there is a lot to consider. Take a look at the diagram below to familiarize yourself with all of the different parts of a horse hoof. With a better understanding of the horse hoof, you will be more knowledgeable about your horse, and you will be able to care for your equine much more efficiently.
Horse Hoof Anatomy – The Outer Part
Let’s start with the outer structure of the horse hoof. The outer part of the horse hoof is made up of a horny kind of tissue that is very similar to the texture of a human’s fingernails.
As the outer part of the hoof is made up of keratin, just like our fingernails, the hoof can continue to grow all throughout a horse’s life, which is why regular farrier appointments and trimmings are highly recommended.
Much like our fingernails, this horn or antler-like structure has no nerves or blood vessels, so trimming the hooves does not hurt or harm the horse in any way shape, or form. The horny part of the hoof grows out from the coronary band, just at the hair above the hoof.
The texture of the hoof is actually very hard and dense yet pliable. The hoof itself is very thick, and the hoof wall is thicker at the part where the toes would be, and thinnest at the heel area.
The optimal horse hoof would have a rounded toe part and would widen at the base of the heel. If the heel is narrow, then the horse hoof may be diseased, or the horse may contract navicular disease.
What you may not already know about your horse’s hooves is that they can actually soften a little in very wet and damp conditions, but they may also harden in dry conditions.
If you feed your horse a healthy diet and incorporate vegetable oils in their feed, then this can also help to nourish the hooves, much like our own fingernails and hair can be moisturized and nourished with the right diet and nutrients.
Horse Hoof Anatomy – The Underneath
When you take a look at the bottom of the hoof, one of the most notable and noticeable parts of the hoof is what we call the frog. This is the triangular-shaped part of the hoof that acts as a sort of shock absorber which can help your horse move and maneuver itself over various different terrains.
The frog on the underside of the hoof is also the softest part of the hoof and the most flexible part of the hoof. In addition to this, the frog of the hoof can also expand as the horse moves to give them extra flexibility and mobility. This is also why the horseshoe has to be wider at this part of the hoof to give it room to expand.
If you take a look at the diagram above, then you will see a section called the white line. This is where the tough outer wall of the hoof meets the sensitive inner parts of the hoof.
Whilst the outer part of the hoof is painless and hardened, the inner part near the white line does have nerves, and so farriers nail horseshoes into the outer wall and not near the white line as this can cause pain and even lameness.
You will also see an area called the ‘bar’ of the hoof. This section is also used to support the horse as it can also take some weight, and the bars will spread out as the horse puts weight on the hoof.
Horse Hoof Anatomy – The Inner Part
At the forefront of the hoof, you have the toe bone of the horse. This is often referred to as the coffin bone. Inside of the hoof, this bone is shaped much like a miniature hoof with a flare and rotates downwards into the sole. You will also find that the coffin bone meets with the short pastern bone of the horse, with the navicular bone behind it.
In the lower parts of the leg, there are no muscles, instead, there are tendons, ligaments, and bones that lead to the hoof. The hoof expands and contracts as the horse moves, which helps the blood circulate around the body.
What you may not know is that the hoof is also known as the horse’s second ‘heart’. This is because blood is pumped from the heart through the arteries to the hoof, and is pumped back up through a pumping mechanism.
As there are no muscles in the lower leg or hoof, then the hoof has to pump blood back to the heart via a network of veins called the venous plexus. These are compressed by the plantar cushion against the coffin bone, which acts as a pump to send the blood back up to the heart.
This is why exercising your horse is so essential, and keeping the hooves healthy is really important as it can help stimulate movement and improve your horse’s circulation. When a horse is not exercised and is left in a stall with little activity, the lower legs can swell up due to the lack of movement and circulation, which is very unhealthy and dangerous for equines.
Finally, we have the sole of the hoof. This is harder than the frog, but not as hard as the outer part of the hoof. The sole is rather flexible and is where the hoof pumps the blood back up to the heart. This part of the hoof needs to be concave rather than flat as this reduces any concussion to the joints in the legs, and provides an even and more comfortable footing for difficult terrain.
To summarize, with our guide, you should know a little more about horse hooves, and be able to identify the different sections and their purposes. Horse hooves are essential to the health of the horse, keeping them mobile, able to move, stand, walk and canter comfortably.
Without proper hoof care, horses can become lame, diseased, or may not be able to circulate blood properly throughout the body. This is why it is essential that you examine your horse’s hooves regularly and organize frequent farrier appointments for their wellbeing.