When trimming, the question of what the perfect hoof looks like often comes up. Although there are many VERY important considerations, such as hoof conditions, measurements and angles, there truly is no single definition of what a perfect foot is.
SHOCK! GASP! Wait what?
Let me explain…
The perfect hoof is one that can function correctly and allow the horse to move soundly though their environment.
This statement holds two primary meanings, the first being that the hoof is free of disease. The horse does not suffer from cracks, abscesses, white line disease, thrush, laminitis or any other harmful ailment that may occur. The second aspect asks us to pay close attention to the environment in which the horse is expected to live and work in. A hoof will look drastically different in different environmental conditions (this is why it is important that the horse lives and works in similar conditions).
A perfect example of hoof changes based on environmental factors are the hooves on two wild populations of horses. The New Zealand Kaimanawa feral horses and the Australian Desert Brumbies.
Above you can see the New Zealand Kaimanawa feral horse hoof. This horse lives in soft footed areas with a significant amount of lush grasses. Although this hoof does not look like the conventionally “perfect” foot, it functions correctly and allow the horse to move soundly though their environment.
Above you can see the Australian Desert Brumbie hoof. As their name suggests, this group of horses lives in desert regions on very abrasive footing. These horses often have to dig to find water. This hoof is extremely compact and dense.
In the study 100 Australian Desert Brumbies and 76 New Zealand Kaimanawa feral horses were studied. The hooves pictured above are representative of what the average hoof looked like in the populations. Some horses in both populations suffered from a variety of hoof ailments and although the New Zealand Kaimanawa feral horse’s hoof appears to be in much worse condition, neither population had significantly number of horses who suffered from severe lameness issues.
It is important to remember that the images here are of wild horses and that this is not to say that if a hoof appears to be unhealthy you should not try to remedy the problem.
I simply want to address that a functional hoof may not always look textbook perfect. The example of these two drastically different hooves is intended to show that hooves will change depending on the environment around them.
For more information on common hoof ailments check out my article: Common Hoof Ailments
For more information on regular hoof care for your horse: 5 Hoofcare Tips
For more on the functions of the hoof: Functions of the Hoof
The photos and information about the new Zealand Kaimanawa feral horse and Australian desert Brumbies are from Pete Ramey’s Text: Care and Rehabilitation of the Equine Foot.
Ramey, Pete. Rehabilitation and Care of the Equine Foot. Lakemont, GA: Hoof Rehabilitation Pub., 2011. Print.