All horses, feral or domestic, are born with the exact same foot; it is what happens next
that makes the difference in the horse’s development.  Feral horses in the proper
environment are able to maintain their feet every day, letting nature mold the foot in the
way it was designed to function.  Domestic horses on the other hand, depend mostly on us
to understand the natural biomechanics of the horse to provide this same function.  
Getting your horses feet balanced the way nature intended not only improves physical
health and performance but also improves there mental health as well. So how is the
hoof supposed to function?  Let’s look at just a couple of the basic functions that are
common on natural feet.

Heel First Landing
A heal first landing for horses is so important and paramount for a healthy, athletic
horse.  The bulk of the soft tissue in the horses foot lies under and behind the coffin bone
in the back of the hoof capsule. In a natural hoof, the surface area behind the widest part
of the foot to the heels is twice as large (2/3) as the surface area from the widest part of
the foot forward to breakover (1/3). When a horse lands heel first it engages the frog
which in turn compresses the digital cushion that is located just above the frog. This
compression on the digital cushion acts as a positive support to the downward force of
the hoof as it loads and unloads weight.  It dissipates the shock from ground impact,
through the lateral cartilage and out the top of the coronary band.  At the same time
creates a vacuum within the hoof capsule that aide in the circulation of blood.  It also
lifts the coffin and navicular bones while simultaneously aligning the pastern joints,
unloads the ligaments, and reduces stress to the sole and lamina of the foot wall.  Not to
mention that most all of the sensory receptors are located in the back of the foot which
gives the horse his coordination while in movement.

A toe first landing on the other hand will create the exact opposite affect within the foot.
The pastern joints will be misaligned on impact with the ground, and then snapped into
place by the weight of the horse as it loads its weight on to the foot. This downward
force is not only detrimental to the joints but moves the navicular bone in a downward
position straining the impar ligament, suspensory ligament, and interrupting the
vascular that feeds the bone.  Within the digital cushion, instead of creating a positive
support, it creates a negative support allowing the force of impact to be dissipated
through the bottom of the sole.

Breakover is the pivot point under the hoof during forward movement. In the wild, a
natural foot will establish a breakover point roughly ¼” in front of the distal border
(tip) of the coffin bone or 1” forward from the apex of the frog. This would be the same as
you breaking over at the ball of your own foot.  If you moved your breakover point to the
end of your toes or further, like wearing a ski boot, you would have a hard time getting
around.  It wouldn’t take long for the unnatural torque of the ski boot to start to affect
your knees, hips, back, and your entire body. Take off that ski boot and reestablish your
breakover with a pair of Nike running shoes.  Immediately you would feel better and be
able to perform to your full athletic ability. It is the same with the horse, the further
forward the breakover point is, the more strain and torque you place on the joints,
tendons, and ligaments.  With time, this distortion will eventually start to affect your
horses feet and the whole topline of the horse.

Nature has designed the horses foot to maintain this breakover.  First, there is the sole
callus which is a thickening of the sole that forms right at the tip of the coffin bone to
support and protects this fragile border. Second, there are the Toe Pillars located in the
toe quarters just ahead of the coffin bone.  These pillars are much denser then the
surrounding hoof wall and sole, allowing the hoof wall to wear back only so far and to
maintain a perfect breakover.  A line drawn from this breakover point to the coronary
band is what we call the functional angle of the hoof.  It is this functional angle that
provides for perfect equilibrium around the coffin bone and relief for the flexor tendons
of the limb.  The dorsal hoof wall angle of the natural hoof can vary greatly from horse to
horse and can rarely be trusted to provide this balance around the lower limb.  In fact,
there is little to no weight being carried by the dorsal hoof wall of wild horses because
it is always being worn back to its establish breakover. Because of this, there is never
any torque (ski boot affect) at the end of the toe.

Just applying these two well established principles will go a long way in preventing
lameness and pathologies from ever developing in your horse. It will also provide a
solid foundation for them to heal if they are already suffering.   At times you can see a big
“Thank you” in the eyes of a horse once you start to get their hoof balanced the way it
was intended to be.  There is much that has been discovered about the natural function of
the horse and much that still needs to be learned.  Every horse is a teacher if we only
take the time to listen.
Distorted Hoof
Toe Callus
Widest Part of
Widest Part of
The Naturally Healthy Hoof
By Eric Neilsen
Balanced Hoof
Eric Neilsen
Equine Services
Eric Neilsen
Equine Services
Contact: Eric or Yevette
Phone: 425-295-1970
King County, Washington
& surrounding areas.
Eric Neilsen
Equine Services
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