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Challenge of maintaining hoof wall integrity


WHILST the equine hoof is an incredible creation evolved to suit many environments, it has limitations and is subject to damage from disease and injury.

In addition to this, the more finely bred hooves are more susceptible to breaking down, especially when in less than ideal environments, such as the humid and soiled conditions of deep litter.

The majority of hooves will be strong

enough to take nailing for the application of horse shoes, particularly if they are well cared for and well shod.

However, this still leaves many horses

and ponies struggling to cope either to hold the shoes on, or remain comfortable with shoes nailed on – why might this be?

This article first appeared in Horse Health Magazine, February/ March 2010


Anatomy: The hoof wall and the white line:

The hoof wall is comprised of the outer dense layer, the mid layer and the inner laminial region.

This is at the interface between the insensitive interlocking projections with the dermal lamellae (sensitive), the living suspension system with the hoof.

Hoof wall horn has three basic components derived from the coronary corium; the tubular horn grows down the hoof like massed straws, the intertubular horn cements the tublar horn together and intra tubular horn is more microscopic and has to do with

moisture content within the horn tubules. At the surface the tubular horn is dense, in the mid region the tubles are more spaced and there is more intertubular horn present.

At the sole level the lower laminal fringe forms the white line.


Hoof quality and the limitations of nails:

The hoof wasn’t designed to take nails, but man found that it is possible to use nails in order to hold horseshoes on.

Some horses produce thick strong hard and dense hoof wall, others will grow horn slowly and the horn doesn’t appear to have the same integrity. Once something is driven into the hoof it is potentially going to weaken the structure and there is a way in for ingressive dirt and bacteria.The nails oxidise, which appears to accelerate the breakdown of the horn in some instances.

In the ideal world we have a hoof without shoes on, but it is not for all.

Some feet appear to have reasonable quality horn but the hoof wall is thin in depth, and the hooves are ultra sensitive to constriction of any sort -

the horse objects to the nailing, and the discomfort experienced impairs its action.

It is, therefore, logical to assume when attaching a shoe to a hoof, it would be advantageous if we didn’t have to use nails.

Once the shoe is nailed on, all the stresses and strains it is subjected to are transferred up through the nails attaching it to the hoof wall.

So, in these cases nailing may not be possible – if a large portion of the hoof breaks away, or if there is insufficient horn in which to nail without encroaching into the

sensitive zone.

Sole view toe quarter


Most diseases of the hoof wall originate at ground level, through tearing, a foreign body

becoming lodged or bacteria filled dirt.

There appear to be bacteria that will affect specific areas of the hoof wall; sometimes they involve only the white line laminal layer, destroying the union, other times only the mid layer of the hoof wall is involved which splits into layers.

Sometimes the hoof wall becomes very porous, the intertubular horn seems to be breaking down; the horn appears like bristles without anything holding them

together; suggesting to me that intertubular horn is more susceptible to disease.



To alleviate these problems the horse needs a healthy balanced diet, clean airy living conditions, any bacteria attacking the horn needs to be dealt with, and the hoof integrity maintained as much as possible.

There are disinfectants available which can address the bacterial problems.

With regard to compromised hoof capsules there are a range of adhesives, plastics and alternative methods of protecting and rebuilding the hoof, even keeping the horse in

work whilst the hoof is recovering.

Long term alternatives are also available. Farriers, vets and scientists are making headway in this area, notably Dr. Sue Dyson at the Animal Health Trust.

There are solutions, a number of procedures that farriers can carry out now, that certainly fifteen years ago were not practised or apparently possible.

Sole view toe quarter
Diseased area partially excavated

Diseased area partially excavated