Check your horse’s feet closely daily and you’ll be more likely to notice changes that signal problems early. It doesn’t take long. In a routine examination you need only focus on four readily visible parts of the hoof:
1. The wall is the hardest part of the hoof and provides structure and protection to the inner foot. A healthy hoof wall will be cone-shaped, with firm, straight sides that show no cracks, bulges or flares.
2. The next hardest structure is the sole, which protects the bottom of the foot. Ideally, the sole will be about a quarter of an inch thick with a smooth, firm but flexible texture. The thickness of a horse’s sole can vary from more than an inch to less than a sixteenth. Horses who bruise or abscess frequently, or who are “ouchy” on rocky footing, may have thin soles. Your farrier can recommend strategies that will help thicken or thin the sole as necessary.
3. The frog provides traction, acts as a shock absorber and aids in blood circulation throughout the foot. A healthy frog will have the consistency of a pencil eraser and the depression of the central sulcus (the center of the frog) will be about one-half inch deep with a solid bottom. The texture of the frog will change depending on turnout conditions: “mushy” with too much exposure to water or mud or shriveled and hard if the ground is very dry. Ask your farrier for recommendations if you see either case.
4. The coronary band is crucial to hoof quality because this is where the wall is produced, and an injury can temporarily or permanently halt hoof growth from that site. A healthy coronary band will give easily to pressure and be soft and spongy. If it is too hard, your farrier may recommend massaging an ointment into the area daily until it is soft.
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