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Horse Hoof Care: Properely Balanced Equine Hooves through Angles

Hoof balance is achieved through hoof angles which may be measured via a hoof gage that measures the junction of the foot’s surface and hoof wall. It used to be considered normal by farriers and veterinarians alike to have front leg hoof angles of 45 to 50 degrees.

Very recently, however, this method of defining a norm has come under close scrutiny by those who realize that individual conformation was not taken into consideration.

What makes a proper hoof angle is the alignment of one set of imaginary streaks – one that begins at the surface of the heel and one that runs down the surface of the frontal hoof with one that is a line running through the last three bones, which are usually referred to as the pastern, short pastern and coffin bone. If the hoof is in proper alignment, the horse will most likely not suffer from lameness.

fig. 1 angle

Thus, when the horse is shod, it is important to attain proper hoof angulations. Thus, when the farrier works on the horse’s hoof, she or he will most likely trim the foot at such an angle that the wall of the hoof and the pastern are parallel. To this end, the expert will have the horse stand on a hard and level surface and take a good look from the front to display the current state of the hoof-pastern axis. If the hoof angle is not parallel, the farrier may use terms such as low (the pastern angle is more than the hoof wall angle) or high (the angle of the pastern is lower than the hoof wall) hoof angles.

Many a time the farrier will be able to correct the hoof angle, such as it would be the case if the toe is too short or long or the heel is too high or low. As a matter of fact, quite often a low hoof angle can be avoided by proper trimming. Low hoof angles have been linked to poor circulation in the heel, in part because the toe grows longer than it should and therefore the pastern moves to such an extent that the coffin joint becomes extended and the strain on the digital flexor tendon increases dramatically. Add to this the friction created in the navicular bursa and the resultant low circulation is no surprise. The more incorrect the hoof angle is, the worse the consequences to the foot are overall.

Corrective measures for toes that have been permitted to grow too long is to “back up” the toe by using a rasp on the dorsal hoof wall so as to more accurately bring it into alignment with the pastern. For relatively new cases, this will usually fix the issue. If the problem is an under-run heel, you will be able to extend the heel of the shoe so as to mimic the proper distance. Thus, if you cannot “back up” the toe, you will most likely have to look into elevating the hoof. Your farrier will be able to discuss this issue with you in detail.

Corrective measures for high hooves are indicated to decrease the strain put on the ligaments caused by coffin joint flexion and heel pressure. To do so, the farrier will most likely trim the foot in a tapered style from the frog to the heel. Wedges may need to be employed if there is too much tension build-up.

Read the next horse shoes article on Horse Shoes and Hoof Care.
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