Getting to Know Schooling Needs of your Horse by Observing the Shape of His Hooves

Let’s say your horse or pony is heavy in your right hand…or jumps to the right of the jump most of the time…or finds it difficult to leg yield away from your left leg…what if you could tell many of your training issues by observing your horse’s feet? What if you could reflect on your training and adjust it by understanding the shape and angle of your horse’s hooves?

The exciting thing is, if you wanted to, you could 🙂

When I run my virtual coaching programmes I always ask for several photos of horse’s feet at pre-described angles. This helps me understand the basic biomechanical challenges the horse has and in turn helps me enormously with putting together training plans for the riders.

I also ask for rider’s description too of course but seeing horse’s feet first allows me to compare what the horse “feels” with what the rider thinks that the horse “does”…

 

I noticed that my notes on this caught a lot of attention among horse owners who bought my training so I thought I would elaborate a little on the subject.

Let’s chat about the front feet…

Shape of the hoof

The horse’s foot changes throughout its life. All four feet of a horse are different from each other, due to environment, exercise, trimming and active stimulation of the foot. And even wild horses’ hooves are all different, which makes it impossible to use them as a gold standard.

Source: Robert Bowker VMD PhD. Professor of Anatomy and Director of the Equine Foot Laboratory at Michigan State Univ. College of Veterinary Medicine

Unless your farrier aggressively changes the shape of your horse’s feet so they are an absolutely matching pair or your horse has especially symmetrical feet with such little differences it is hard to see them on pictures, it is always possible to tell which front foot is his weaker foot and which one is his dominant foot.

The more upright front foot is the one your horse is likely to use more for support. When he grazes, he will prefer to place his for example, left front foot forwards more often whilst “anchoring” himself on his right shoulder and right foot. This he would have done since he was a foal so you can actually know your training plan of your young horse from the moment you see him graze as a foal 🙂

 

(Interested? See here for more: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/29041/horse-gaits-sound-doesnt-equal-symmetrical)

 

Once you know this you will also know which fore leg and shoulder your horse tends to lean on, which side of his body is stiffer and which one weaker and hollow. If you look at the solar view of your horse’s feet (as you do when you hoof pick) you can tell if you take him out hacking on varied terrain or if he only works on fluffy surface, you can tell if you keep/work your horse on dry, hard ground or soft and deep. You will be able to tell all this from how his soles look like, how well developed and healthy his frogs are, how deep his lateral grooves are, how thick and spongy his back of the foot (digital cushions) feel like when you give them a squeeze with your fingers (many thanks to Nic Barker at Rockley Farm for showing me this!).

Horses that are right fore leg dominant may have more upright right front hoof whilst their left hoof might have longer toe, at times the hoof pastern axis might be broken back, the heels might be underrun.

How correct training changes the hooves

Due to natural asymmetry there will always be some differences in a healthy horse’s feet but if you schedule a nice plan of  “physical education” for your horse or pony you might notice how his feet change in shape…the upright right foot might become less upright with more correct hoof pastern angle and the previously long toed hoof might shorten, heels might appear more under the correct part of the back of the foot and your horse might become a little more “ambidextrous” in his school work 🙂

Example

Here are front feet of a young PRE gelding I had for schooling after he under went a rehabilitation for slight lameness at Rockley Farm. I chose him to show you because the difference in his feet shape is very clear and so easy to spot for those of you who might not have an experience in observing horse’s hooves.

 

IMG_2346

Pocholo October 2011 in his typical stance with left fore placed in front of the upright right fore

Pocholo 2

November 2011. Lateral view. Believe it or not this foot has improved immensely. Hairline has straightened up, hight lowered, horn tightened. You can see it some months earlier HERE

He was sound and in full work at the time above photos were taken but we were still working on his tendency to load his right shoulder more than the left, right poll flexion being more difficult, right bend, weaker left canter to name some schooling challenges. He was a fun horse to work with, always happy to try whatever you asked but to know what made him more “even” meant I was able to eventually create a longer stride in trot (he tended to speed up by going choppier) and he became much more responsive to the leg, straighter and happier to work with engaged hindlegs.

Did this make you curious? 

I hope so 🙂 Have you ever looked at your horse’s feet to figure out his overall  biomechanics ? Let me know, I am a bio-mech nerd!

Feel free to snap your horse’s or pony’s feet and post it on Aspire’s Facebook page for notes and discussions – happy to chat any time! See you at:  www.facebook.com/aspireequestriancademy

 

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8 thoughts on “Getting to Know Schooling Needs of your Horse by Observing the Shape of His Hooves

  1. Totally opened my eyes! Great post. Hooves tell you almost everything: nutrition, muscle development, movement, footing, bones and ligaments… an amazing key to unlock your horse’s mysteries, quirks, or tendencies.

    • Thank you! Yes it is amazing how relatively little, as horse owners and trainers and riders, we have been taught about hooves. If I didn’t happen to own a very complicated horse in 2009 I would probably never have become hoof knowledge aficionado…

  2. This is pretty accurate! Wiz is stiff to the right and his left front is much more upright. And his front feet are way more chomped up than his back… my theory is because he still is really bad about putting all of his weight on his front!

    • Ahh it might be, barefoot horses are much more exciting to observe because there are no shoe restrictions and man made changes.
      From the papers I read it seems there are more horses with right upright front foot than those with the left upright (apparently similar correlation to statistics on left and right handedness in people)

      • Yeah that’s what I’ve heard as well. But I’m left-sided (even though I’m right handed, I do a lot of things with my left and am all-over stronger on the left side of my body) and I’m sure that has affected him since I’m the only one who’s ever ridden him! So it’s hard to say which came first- was he always left-sided like me, or did I make him that way!? Who knows. When I ask him to stretch his neck to the right it pops like five times, eek. (why the chiro is my best friend). Getting him to bend correctly to the right is like pulling teeth. So I think it’s interesting that when I looked at the pictures I had on my phone of his feet, sure enough, the left was a bit more upright.

      • That’s really interesting, I do believe that horse’s bodies adjust to the rider’s to some extent.
        You had him from before backing though haven’t you? Do you have any photos from his pre-backed time?

        For straightness and suppleness from green horse to Grand Prix I can’t recommend in-hand work enough..it’s like a physio session 🙂

      • it won’t let me reply below so I’m replying here- but I actually worked with him before backing but he technically wasn’t mine. I have some pictures of him but his feet aren’t prominent in the photos. Mostly just photos of his cute face!

        And by in-hand work do you mean ground-driving?

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