Understanding and Dealing with Cracked Chunks of the Hoof

One of the questions I have had recently is, “Are my horse’s feet bad if they have chunks missing”. The short answer is yes, but the long answer is “yes and no” and is much more involved as we need to think about why this happens and how the horse is adapting to a particular situation or environment.

Let’s take a look at a few pictures:

[responsive]Cracked chunk of hoof, bottom view [/responsive]

[responsive]Cracked chunk of hoof, front view[/responsive]

[responsive]Cracked chunk of hoof, top down view[/responsive]

We can see there that this horse has a large chunk of it’s hoof missing on the toe. Looking from any direction it’s obvious that this poor horse hasn’t been trimmed in a long time. The hooves are growing out, instead of down, and becoming severely flared which is causing all kinds of problems.

In the second picture I have indicated with red lines where the hoof wall should be coming down, this gives a very clear indication of how severely flared the hoof is. If the hoof was growing down correctly then it should not have the huge curve outwards that it has there, which is everything on the outside of the red lines. If trimmed and maintained correctly, that hoof should be able to grow down like that.

So, the result of a lack of trimming ends up causing flare. That’s a given and oddly, many horses have this problem. Some horses actually get flare due to the trim they get from the farrier/trimmer. I recently saw two horses that both show indications of flare due to recent change in trimmer. This is not unusual in the least as many farriers need that flare to safely get a shoe on without causing bleeding of the dermal and epidermal laminae.

The flare itself is actually causing the cracks in the quarters and toe, this is due to the sheer amount of pressure being placed on the hoof wall being stretched outwards. If you imagine a plastic cup upside down and you place pressure on the top of it, it’s not long before it cracks and splays outwards, if it doesn’t crumple downwards. The crumpling that happens in a hoof are what we see as rings, the cracks are results of splaying out.

(Update 01/24/2015)
Here’s another horse that was left to grow far too long. You can see a large chunk missing which has actually helped the hoof with self trimming. This horse is on very soft ground for most of it’s time, but the little that it is on hard ground, it likely hurts. You can see the back left has a very steep hairline/coronet angle, showing that the toe is just way too long.

[responsive]Cracked Hoof on 2 year old horse[/responsive]

Here’s a closer look at that. The hoof wall broke off at the right spot and has also allowed for the outside of the outer wall to take on a passive role to grow down instead of out as it won’t be loaded. In the trimmer’s world, this would be like a “mustang roll”.

[responsive]Close look at broken chunk of hoof wall[/responsive]

We next can finally take a look at why the big chunk has come off, and while this is the result of poor feet, it’s actually a really good thing.

When a horse’s hoof grows long, the horse rarely gets up onto stilts for it. The hooves don’t just go up and up and up, they tend to flare out forward and sideways. There are many pictures on the internet of the “elf shoe” hoof where it may not go out sideways and instead just really long forwards with an amazingly underrun heel. The other way they go is into the “pancake”. Both are immensely destructive and take a long time to rehabilitate. If in time they do not get resolved, you can get into bone loss and destruction of the inside of the hoof that is irreversible. In this case, the hoof is going into pancake mode to keep the sole and frog on the ground and sharing the load as it’s supposed to. I would consider this the better of the two options.

What we see in these pictures actually is the hoof responding well to it’s circumstances. We can see that just the toe is broken off and it’s not broken off badly, enough to reveal lamina nor internals like the sole corium and bone. It just broke off a big chunk so that the horse could walk better. In effect this slows down the pulling forward of the whole hoof capsule, underrun heels and pulling forward of the frog. The breakover of the hoof comes back and the horse can walk easier for it. To put it simply, this is supposed to happen. If this horse was on harder ground, I suspect the other pieces would have broken off by now and the hoof walls would get sanded down by rocks and gravel and sand.

We are seeing the horse’s natural ability to protect itself and the horse is left to it’s own natural devices to protect itself from any pain and damage. The best option obviously is to trim these hooves immediately and roll the edges to give a proper breakover point and allow the horse to walk normally.