How much do you know about your horse’s feet? Here are five facts about your horse’s hooves that you might not yet know.
1. The Hoof Is Made of Keratin
The hard exterior of your horse’s hoof is made of keratin, which is the same substance that our fingernails are made out of. The horse cannot feel this part of the hoof, but the keratin is hard and provides an excellent barrier to protect the inner hoof structures. This is the reason that farriers can nail horseshoes to the hooves – a horse doesn’t feel the nails go into the keratin.
2. The Frog is a Shock Absorber
The frog, that squishy triangle feature in the bottom of your horse’s foot, acts to absorb shock. The flexible frog makes contact with the ground every time that your horse takes a step, and because it absorbs some of the impact, it reduces the amount of shock that the bones and joints of your horse’s legs need to absorb.
Additionally, the frog helps to pump blood throughout the leg with every step. Because of this function, it’s important to maximize turnout time for horses which are kept in stalls; walking and moving improves the circulation to their legs.
3. The Hoof Flexes Naturally
Even though the keratin of your horse’s hoof is hard, did you know that the hoof, itself, flexes as your horse moves? This flexion helps to absorb shock, especially at the faster gaits. When we put shoes on a horse, the shoes actually restrict the hoof’s natural flexion. This can lead to reduced blood flow and increases the amount of shock that travels up the horse’s legs. However, some horses which are ridden on rough terrain need shoes to help protect their hooves.
4. Summer is Hard on Hooves
The summer months are particularly hard on hooves. The ground tends to dry out during the summer, so your horse may stand or be ridden across dry, hard-packed land. Flies only add to the trouble, as horses stomp their legs to get rid of flies. But at the same time, we tend to hose our horses off after most summertime rides, which saturates their hooves.
This back-and-forth cycle can have negative effects on your horse’s feet, like cracking, chipping, and loose shoes. Try sponging your horse off and using fly leg boots to reduce the summer’s effect on his hooves.
5. The Hoof Has Multiple Functions
Did you know that the hoof actually does a lot more than serve as a surface for your horse to stand on? The hoof gives your horse traction, supports his weight, absorbs the shock of each step, and pumps blood up through your horse’s legs.