Does Equine Hoof Shape Have an Effect on Soundness?

Could it be? A potential predisposing factor for lameness that can be seen with our very eyes? According to one British researcher, this dream could be a reality. A recent study revealed that certain hoof shapes and characteristics can be associated with chronic lameness, while others point to a sound horse.

"Despite being widely accepted that abnormal foot conformation may be associated with lameness, there is a paucity of evidence-based information concerning foot size and shape and lameness; the purpose of this study was to photographically document the foot shape and external hoof characteristics of lame and nonlame horses," said Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England. Dyson presented her study at the 12th Congress of The World Equine Veterinary Association, held Nov. 2-6, 2011, in Hyderabad, India.

Researchers photographed, analyzed, and compared the front feet of 25 nonlame horses in full work to 427 feet from 300 lame horses. Causes for lameness were variable and included injury to the collateral ligament of the coffin joint, injuries of the deep digital flexor tendon, osteoarthritis, and foot pain of undiagnosed cause, among others.

Dyson and colleagues also obtained digital photographic images of the lateral (outside) hoof wall of each horse's feet. They measured characteristics such as shape of the coronary band and dorsal hoof wall; appearance of growth rings and horn tubules; angles of the hoof wall, heel, and coronary band; and lengths of the hoof wall.

Key findings of the study were:

  • In 22% of horses that were lame on one foot, the lame foot was taller and more upright foot than the nonlame foot;
  • In 10% of horses that were lame on one foot, the lame foot had a long toe and a low, collapsed heel compared with the nonlame foot;
  • The shape of the coronary band was different between lame and nonlame feet: Lame feet had a more concave contour of the coronary band; and
  • Lack of parallel alignment of the horn tubules and divergent growth ring orientation were associated with chronic lameness.

"This study confirms that asymmetry of foot shape may be present in foot-related lameness and that appraisal of hoof conformation, including assessment of height of the coronary band and alignment of growth rings and horn tubules, may be helpful in chronic lameness cases," concluded Dyson.

These results suggest that foot shape should not be overlooked during prepurchase examinations as it could be an indicator of impending lameness.

The abstract, "External characteristics of the lateral aspect of the hoof differ between non-lame and lame horses," will be published on the International Veterinary Information System.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.