A horse’s hoof may look like a solid, hard object, that is tough and resilient to everything that comes in its way. However, that isn’t the case. The hoof is made up of several different layers and structures, each with a specific function. We’ll explain these below in more detail, and how best to look after them and your horse.
Inside the Hoof
There are three bones inside the hoof. The longest is the short pastern bone that extends down from the long pastern bone in the horse’s leg. The largest bone within the hoof is the pedal or coffin bone. Within this bone are many minuscule passageways for blood vessels and nerves. Beneath the junction of the short pastern bone and the coffin bone sits the small navicular bone. Several tendons and ligaments run down from the leg and attach to the bones within the foot. Surrounding these bones is the sensitive laminae. This is a layer of tissue that carries blood to all the components of the hoof. Beneath the sensitive ‘laminae’ and bone structures sits the digital cushion. This is a rubbery pad of tissue that forms the heel of the hoof and helps absorb the shock as the horse’s hoof makes contact with the ground.
The Outside of the Hoof
The ‘wall’ of the hoof can be very thin, or very thick depending on the type of horse, its nutrition and environment. Wild horses wear down hoof growth naturally, but domestic horses require regular trimming by a farrier. The colour of the hoof is influenced by the colour of the skin above it. Many people believe that hooves with black walls are stronger than hooves with white walls. This is not true. Between the laminae and wall is an area called the ‘white line’, this is similar to our own finger nails and is constantly growing. The white line provides the farrier with a visual indication of how deep he can trim the hoof, and where to set in the nails for horseshoes. The very outside of the wall is protected by the periople, protecting the moisture within the hoof. The coronary band runs around the very top of the hoof. This is a blood rich band from which the hoof grows, somewhat similar to the cuticle on our fingernail. On the underside of the hoof is the sole. This is a concave, thick but flexible padding of hard tissue that protects the sensitive sole directly beneath the bones of the foot.
Looking After Your Horses Hooves
Domestic horses require daily foot care to stay healthy. It is important to clean dirt and manure from the underside of the hooves as well as lodged rocks, sticks or even pine cones that can cause discomfort and bruising.
As you visually check your whole horse check for any swellings or cuts around the foot.
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