How do I know if my horse's foot is balanced?
In the following video Gene Ovnicek will discuss the role of the hoof wall and sole in establishing hoof balance in a self-maintained foot. Gene also discusses how we need to re-direct our evaluation of balance from the hoof wall to structures on the bottom of the foot that are less susceptible to distortion.
Episode 1 - How do I know if my horse's foot is balanced?
Figure 5 - E.L.P.O. Research
Figure 7 - Balance Shoe Application
As farriers, when we look to attain balance, what we strive to achieve is that the coffin bone inside the foot is balanced equally from side to side, and has a comfortable position from front to back with the least possible amount of unnecessary strain on the ligaments and tendons of the lower leg, both when the horse is standing and in motion. Currently, the most effective way to evaluate if the foot is balanced and to guide the farrier in getting the foot balanced is by using the functional sole plane and the widest part of the foot.
The functional sole plane is basically the same thickness beneath each side of the coffin bone (Figure 1), so if you can identify the functional sole (waxy sole material beneath the chalky exfoliating sole), you can more easily balance the foot from side to side (medial/lateral balance). The reason it is important to have the coffin bone balanced from side to side, is because the main joints in the lower limb are hinge joints, so their primary motion is forward and backward. (Figure 2) Although these hinge joints do have some forgiveness in their ability to move from side to side, it is not their primary design. Is it also important to know that each joint has a nominal space between each bone and that the joint spacing is necessary to avoid undue contact or pressure on one side of the bone over the other. (Figure 3) Therefore, it is important that when standing and in motion the joint spacing be as even as possible, as often as possible. By balancing the coffin bone evenly from side to side with the ground, this will offer the best opportunity for that to happen.
When looking at front to back balance (A/P or D/P balance), it is recommended by most relevant hoof care theory that the ground surface of the foot should be equally divided around the center of the foot. (Figure 4) Although there are slight variations on how to determine the center of the foot, the most successful approaches to hoof care thrive for balance around the center of the foot. I feel that the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization has established the most accurate and consistent method for locating the best center reference, which is the widest part of the foot. Their protocol has developed through a well-designed research project that studied over 200 mapped and marked foot radiographs. (Figure 5) By using the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization hoof mapping protocol, anyone can easily locate the widest part of the foot and therefore locate the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. Once the farrier can find the coffin bone accurately, they should be able to make good choices about how to prepare the foot and apply a trim or shoe so that the least amount of extra strain is incurred on the soft tissue in and around the lower limb. (Figure 6) In my opinion, the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization Hoof Trimming and Shoeing protocols offer the safest and best guidelines for dealing with hoof capsule distortions and balancing the foot to a healthy and functional condition. (Figure 7)
Quick Reference Guide Download
To download a Simple Quick Reference Guide for Evaluating A/P (front to back) Hoof Balance, Click on the Image to the LEFT. The file is a 1.5MB .pdf
"Simplifying Hoof Balance" (.pdf Download)
This article by Gene Ovnicek is a more thorough look at hoof balance and how looking at a few simple, general guidelines can make evaluating and achieving good hoof balance much easier for hoof care professionals.
Simplifying-Hoof-Balance.pdf (550 Kb)
This article is a .pdf document, so you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader or another pdf reader installed to view it. (most computers and browsers already have it) You can download Adobe Acrobat Reader for FREE from the Adobe Website. Click HERE
Equine Lameness Prevention Organization "Widest Part of the Foot" Research
The Equine Lameness Prevention Organization has conducted a Radiograph Study in order to offer useful guidelines to hoof care professionals. This project discussed the protocol used to locate internal hoof structures by using external references. Click on the image to the LEFT for a summary of the results.