There’s an old adage in the equine world you may have heard of – “no hoof, no horse”, and this saying couldn’t be more true! Anyone who has spent enough time around horses knows that if it’s feet are sore, there is certainly no riding the horse, and often times other ailments and problems can arise. Think about it – the average 1200 lb Quarter Horse is carrying 300lbs on each hoof, which on average has a surface of less than twelve square inches. If you weigh 150lbs, imagine holding your friend of equal weight on your back, then try standing on one foot…now imagine standing on that one foot while standing on a rock – ouch! But its not just pain or discomfort the horse owner should be concerned with, as the hoof actually works as a secondary “heart” for the horse. Because the horse’s lower extremities are so far from it’s heart, the contraction and expansion of the hoof capsule in general, and the frog specifically, helps pump blood back up through the legs towards the main body and heart, playing a vital role in overall health. In addition, improperly balanced hoofs not only affect this pumping system and hoof health, but also can affect the horse’s total musculoskeleta system and health (imagine walking around all day with one flip flop and one high heel – that’s how it feels to a horse with unbalanced feet!).

Mike Stine patiently works on Snowy’s hooves at her first farrier visit.

So what does all this mean for our poor Snow Angel. First, the average retired backyard pasture horse can go 8-12 weeks between having a farrier trim it’s hooves. Left untrimmed for too long and the hoof will do one of two things – stronger healthier hooves will grow out of control, causing distortions to the hoof capsule and resulting in incredibly long unruly hooves (imagine never trimming your fingernails); weak or brittle hooves will break and crack off, sometimes right up at the white line (the border between “non-living” hoof tissue and the vascular “living” sole of the foot). This can cause pain and open the horse up to problems such as bruises, abscesses, and bacterial infections.  We do not know how long it had been since Snowy had a proper farrier appointment, but amazingly her feet were not in horrible condition. Part of this can be attributed to genetics – Arabians do tend to have hard strong feet – but also to her lack of nutrition. While she may not have been getting the proper nutrients to maintain hoof health that also meant the growth rate would be slowed.


Snowy had her first appointment with our farrier Mike Stine of Equine Dynamics – Horses in Motion, on January 5th, less than one week shy of her one month anniversary at Race2Ring. While her hoof walls were not in terrible condition, we did have some concerns due to her age and condition. First, as we noted when we first picked Snowy up, she had an old injury to her right stifle, making it difficult to bend that limb. This could be a problem for the farrier, as Snowy would need to bend the right hind to have the hoof trimmed, and then balance on that leg to have the left hind trimmed. Additionally, we had discovered in her vet exam that Snowy has severe ringbone in her right front foot. “Ringbone” is the general term for arthritis in the hoof, and it can affect the coffin joint, as well as both pastern joints. Although we did not x-ray Snowy, it was obvious from her inability to flex her foot as well as bony calcification at the coronet that she definitely had “low” ringbone affecting the joint between the coffin bone and short pastern (right at the coronary band). It’s more than likely that she has “high” ringbone too, which affects the joint between the two pastern bones. Not only would this make it uncomfortable for her to bend her leg to have the hoof trimmed, but her lack of mobility in that joint makes the right front foot grow differently from the left, making her feet very uneven and thereby her whole body unbalanced.

This is what can happen to hooves left untrimmed – “Pegasus” was a Mustang stallion who’d sustained an injury while in the wild, resulting in uneven hoof balance. This meant he didn’t wear his hooves evenly like most wild Mustangs, resulting in the odd hoof growth. Mike Stine had the privilege of caring for this amazing stallion in his twilight years.

It is very important that in a case like this you not only have a farrier knowledgeable in proper hoof balance, but also one who is familiar with overall body alignment of the equine, as well as someone sensitive to Snowy’s age and ailments. Mike was very patient with Snowy, not asking her to lift her feet too high, bend them at severe angles, or stand too long in one position. As typical of Snowy she was incredibly stoic and had no issues with having her legs and feet bent and held at varying angles while Mike addressed the hooves. While it is possible to cause changes in a horse’s musculoskeletal balance by changing the angles of the hooves, at Snowy’s age trying to do so would not only take a lot of time but would cause her more pain and discomfort. Mike’s goal was to treat each hoof as an individual and balance them in the best possible way for all four to work together to keep Snowy as pain free and comfortable as possible. In most cases this means keeping the toes trimmed to an appropriate length to make it easier for the limb to “break over” and not cause undue stress on her arthritic joints, as well as to prevent any flares on either side of the foot that could cause undue stress to the hoof capsule. Snowy definitely was a happier more mobile horse after her first farrier visit, as her feet were trimmed down to the proper “size” and balanced in a way that eased discomfort when she moved. And now that she is receiving proper nutrition and her hooves are able to grow at a normal rate, she will continue to have regular appointments every 6-8 weeks to maintain a correct balance to ensure she remains a healthy happy horse!

Next month: Snowy’s 6 month Update!