Here is a very contracted hoof:
This hoof may look like a drastic example of contraction, but is pretty typical of the appearance of most hooves upon removing the horse's shoes. You can even see examples of similarly contracted hooves proudly displayed in magazine ads, catalogs, and photo closeups of top competition and even Olympic-level horses. Surprisingly, to many people this hoof looks totally normal. This is not normal, this is pathological.
This hoof is very unhealthy, due to the diminished blood flow inside the hoof, and the deformity of the internal hoof structures. This horse is most likely lame (meaning he cannot walk barefoot upon the ground comfortably and heel-first). Even if he is not yet showing lameness or other symptoms, he has probably begun the changes towards both navicular syndrome and founder. These changes don't happen quickly, they happen slowly - a degeneration over the years - further exacerbated by any treatment that alleviates the pain (shoeing, pads, drugs, etc.) but fails to recognize and remedy the cause of the problem: the contraction of the hoof.
This hoof belongs to a horse that has never worn shoes. This hoof is round, equal width and length. Notice how far apart the heel purchase areas are (top arrows) and how far apart the heel bulbs are. Notice the wide spaces (bottom arrow) in between the two heel bulb points - no resemblance to butt-cheeks!
This is a healthy hoof that is not contracted. ALL HOOVES should look similar to this, with the above-mentioned features. This is what constitutes a healthy, functioning equine hoof, as defined by nature, not by man.
A contracted hoof, and a normal, healthy hoof.
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