You know the expression: No hoof, no horse. There’s a reason why proper foot care and shoeing is so important, and it all begins with hoof anatomy. Because—let’s face it—there’s a lot going on beneath the surface! Here’s a look at the horse hoof’s major structures from the inside out.
The anatomy of the hoof is supported by the phalangeal bones, which act as the “levers” that provide the framework for a horse’s movement. These are supported by tendons and ligaments—the “pulleys”—which support the joints and attach your horse’s muscles to his bones. Chief among these are the extensor tendon and the deep digital flexor tendon, which allow your horse to straighten and bend/flex his leg.
The bones of the hoof include:
- first phalanx (P1)
- middle or second phalanx (P2)
- distal or third phalanx (P3), also known as the coffin bone
- the navicular bone sits just behind the coffin bone
This fibro-fatty cushion sits just below the coffin bone and cushions it when it impacts the ground, especially in the rear area of the foot.
The horse hoof contains collateral cartilages. These cartilages run along either side of the coffin bone and allow the hoof to expand when a horse bears weight on it.
Hooves also contain a number of soft tissue structures, including blood vessels, nerves, and the laminae. These are leaf-like structures that attach the hoof to your horse’s bone. Disease that occurs in the laminae is what’s known as ‘laminitis’ or founder.
Made of a keratinous material, this inflexible, horny covering is the part of the hoof that most of us see every day. It grows in rings from your horse’s toe to his heel, and down from the coronary band at an average rate of 3/8 inch a month.
This is the tough, V-shaped structure on the underside of your horse’s hoof that points downward from his heel. It’s essentially a shock absorber, protecting the internal digital cushion as well as sensitive nerves that help communicate to your horse where his feet are and what he’s standing on.
This is the concave portion of the hoof, also made of keratin, that lies on the underside of your horse’s foot, nearest to the ground. It protects the inner workings of the foot, though most of the sole does not actually make contact with the ground.
Located at the top of the hoof and just below your horse’s hairline, this light-colored band is the essential growth source of the hoof wall, and contains a significant blood supply.
In conclusion, your horse’s feet are important for walking, trotting, and cantering. For the rider, being able to walk a course correctly is important too! Check out our Strides to Success: Course Walking 101 to brush up on your skills.