The horse hoof is a complex structure that is designed to support the weight of the entire body and protect the internal structures of the lower limbs while transferring and dispersing energy during locomotion. The hoof has many different areas that are referred to as regions or parts of the hoof such as the toe, quarters or heels and it is important for those who care for horses to understand each region and how it functions in order to achieve a healthy hoof. This article will give a brief overview of the basic anatomy of the hoof and some tips on how to properly care for the hoof.
The first area of the hoof is the TOE. The toe of the hoof is positioned about 12:00 on the hoof and it is a key part in supporting the weight of the animal as it moves forward. The toe should be shaped correctly and should have a natural horseshoe shape and not be too flat or rounded to allow for the flexing of the foot.
Just behind the toe is the quarters and just in front of the quarters is the heel. The heel is also a key supporting part of the hoof and when it is not in good condition it can cause problems such as the horse refusing to load the foot.
After the heel is the frog. The frog is a dense fibrous structure that contacts the ground when the horse walks. It is surrounded by the sole of the hoof and it is covered by the soft keratinous lamellae. The frog has a central cleft called the frog sulcus that should be a small indent the size of a thumb. The frog functions as an anti-concussion and traction device and it sheds at varying times throughout the year.
The frog should be slightly drier than the rest of the sole and should not show signs of cracking or flaring. The frog is a vital part of the hoof as it is designed to disperse and absorb energy while the horse walks. If the frog is too dry or cracks then it can cause the hoof to be unsound as it cannot support the weight of the animal.
Finally, the bars are the walls that run on either side of the frog and they should be in good condition without any chips or flaring. The bars help to support the frog and they are a very sensitive part of the hoof that can be easily affected by improper trimming. The bar can also become thrush prone if it is not cleaned regularly.
A healthy hoof is one that has a smooth, well-formed outer wall that is slightly thicker in the toe and free from any prominent growth rings. The outer wall should be a little bit shiny and it should be impermeable meaning that substances that come into contact with the hoof will not pass through it easily. If the wall is not healthy then water and other elements may seep into the hoof creating a moist environment in which bacteria can grow. This can lead to thrush and other diseases of the hoof.