Only a month ago, my filly was still cannon-deep in fresh powder.
Summer brings hard-packed, baked-clay earth that chips off flares and wears out toes. Fall brings mud and no abrasion and leaves frogs soggy and thrushy. Winter brings snow, beautiful clean snow. I think snow hooves are my favorite
What I like about snow hooves is the way they seem almost clinically preserved. You can see all your sole-hoof wall connectivity and gaps. You can see your bars. You can see your collateral grooves and the health of your frog.
I went running in the snow in the winter.
The differences between mud and snow becomes immediately apparent as soon as you try running in it. Snow compacts into hard snow and ice. Ice is pretty darned scratchy. I have never been cut by mud, but I’ve been wrecked by snow. It’s not all hot cocoa and 80’s ski suits. Looking at snow hooves, my little filly was definitely showing ample sole abrasion from traversing across a snowy field each day.
Enter exhibit 2, Stella.
What caught my attention first was that she had flaky sole. I could run over it with a hoof pick and get white flake and crumble.
In my super-simplistic view on hooves, I see if something is falling out, falling apart, flaking, cracking, chipping or shedding: the horse is trying to get rid of it. You can look for these little markers and know that the horse decided they don’t want it. So the question becomes, if they don’t want it, why is it still there? It must be being held back.
Now, Stella came with long hooves (let’s look back). Even with her goat feather growing down, you can tell she’s got some long toes. Adding insult to injury, two of her shoes had fallen off, they had been left on so long:
While Cinder didn’t have long hooves and was able to abrade and shed, Stella couldn’t. Same diet, same travel, same footing. One shed her sole and the other retained it.
Those who know me know that I tend to have a story for everything. You can mention train schedules in NYC and I will “have a time when…” something like that happened to me. Here’s one of those seemingly unrelated Holly-jumps, that totally made sense to me. (Of course, because I AM Holly!)
I was looking at a contract plastic mold manufacturer (of course I was!) and they had a guide book for how to best design your mold. Sort of like, “Please read this and we might skip 27 versions of the disaster you are going to ask us to make for you.” One of the things I thought was fascinating was that your plastic would inject in, mold, and have to self-express. It needed to be able to pop out on its own.
Illustration courtesy of www.mdiproducts.com
There were pages upon pages for ratios in height to width to ensure your product didn’t buckle as it tried to express itself. The plastic, being toasty-hot, would expand in the setting-up process and, if the design was right, it would pop itself out of the mold. If the walls were too long, too straight, etc. it would retain the product or (at worst) it would warp while half trying to express and half being retained.
It looked like the battle of my legs trying to get in and out of jeans that were too small. It was going to get ugly.
This got me to thinking of excess hoof wall length and its potential effect on holding in a sole.
The first difference I noted in the girls, was that Cinder had a fairly good line of connection between her sole and hoof wall and Stella had a scraggly gap. I marked Cinder's in color grades. Cinder had a smooth polished connection in the green and light green areas of her toe, spanning out to the sides, I could easily see where her wall was longer than her sole and didn’t have as close a connection. The quarters and heels were starting to flare out, pulling away from their connection to the sold. The bars were slightly too long (not world-ending) and ended up breaking off on their own (I left them alone). Her frog ended up shedding a layer as well.
Stella’s looked much clearer in photo resolution, so I didn’t need to mark hers.
You can see the tiny lines of laminae along her longer hoof wall. The sole has not been knifed, yet has all sorts of dents and dimples in it. It has the dirt marbling of the cracks, or fissures, that denote that section of sole would be flaking and coming out. Unlike my thighs, horses don’t get varicose veins in their hooves. Her heels are taller, her frog recessed by the height of the bar growth and heel height.
Something to illustrate on sole perception: It’s old news. No really, I don’t mean to be funny about it, it’s reading the past. It’s what she’s grown OUT, not what she is growing IN. Sort of like looking at the tips of your hair instead of the roots. You might’ve dyed your hair 20 times and drank a total of 400 gallons of coffee by the time that hair on the end has reached the “end”. My hair grows about 6 inches a year. So hair that is a foot long, on my head, has an age of about 2 years at the tips. Oh the places my hair has been! Same with soles. I don’t scream when I see “stuff” show up. I don’t freak out when the laminae shows signs of stretch. They are the back of the boat, the wake. I am already steering in a different direction. See my next blog on Tracking With Your Laminae, for more on seeing laminae lines when your hoof wall is growing out.
So let’s say your horse has very solid walls, growing down. He essentially has a mold with too steep and confining of walls for that sole to either 1) make contact with the ground to gradually abrade, or 2) to slough off huge chunks of sole, due to them being penned in.
Luckily, the hoof has a mechanism for this: the walls will start to flare and give wiggle room to the sole to express.
On Stella, I didn’t see a nice thick wall. I saw a flared wall, that was thick because it was bent out and ground flat. I saw lack of connection from the hoof wall to the sole. She has connection, but it’s hiding under a layer of dead sole. In my picture above, I have grayed out the hypothetical depth of sole that was going to shed out. I have indicated the beginning of the flare. From the flare downward, you won’t see a tight knit with the sole. It will have pockets and be gappy. That’s just the indication that you’re dealing with old, dead, excess.
You will want to note the large rimmed walls. I have seen people brag about how thick their horse’s hoof wall is and yet it’s not connected to the sole. That’s not the true thickness of your hoof wall, that’s a flare that has beveled itself into an apparent wideness. Almost like a hand of cards, it’s a “Flush Flare”. And the issue with that is, it is a flare. You are dealing with old news. You need to get ahead of the flare to get better connection. Leaving the flare there by not seeing the lack of connection, by not seeing it as a flare, means you are polishing a turd.
Your connection is higher up and hidden from view by your sole being retained. You aren’t gauging how much flare is there. So you leave it. That hoof wall will continue to pull and be strained. With standing on soft ground, your hoof isn’t wearing and you will need to address the hoof walls to help the sole discard. Here is a 16.1h 1,200 horse. He should have the weight and bulk to wear his feet, yet he’s on soft ground.
It almost looks like a decent hoof. At first glance and from across a pasture, you wouldn't think he was doing too bad.
Lifting the hoof up, we see how unsupportive this hoof is.
Looking at Stella’s hinds, we see a sole a bit more like Cinders: uniform abrading of the sole, some wall height that is surplus, less flare and (if the small amount of excess is trimmed) a bar/heel height that is more on par with the height of the frog.
Next time you are looking at your bare hooves and see “nice, thick, healthy walls” but no connectivity to the sole, check and make sure you are not, in fact, dealing with a flare and a false sole. It happens to me every once in a while and I sigh and say to myself, "Holly, you're polishing a turd."
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Through a lifetime of "horse crazy" and the fortunate experience of riding nearly every shape and size of horse, I got to see a wide array of hoof shapes and sizes. No Hoof, No Horse is very true to me. I want to ensure that horses on every continent have a variety of footwear to pick from, to ensure the best match is found. I want your partner to be happy from the ground up!