The ideal racehorse foot, as presented in textbook illustrations, rarely occurs in nature. Each foot, even on the same horse, is influenced by a number of variables, including the horse’s conformation, the structure of the individual leg, moisture content of the hoof components, and athletic demands.

“Feet all have different mechanical requirements that need to be met in order to remain healthy and functional enough to withstand the rigors of training,” said Dr. Ric Redden, founder of the International Equine Podiatry Center in Versailles, Ky. “The key to managing Thoroughbred feet is having a good working knowledge of what we are managing, what they need to be healthy, and how to make it happen. A good time to assess what we are managing is when the yearling or 2-year-old arrives at the training barn.”

Examining the foot

Simply observing external features of the horse’s foot is not enough. Farriers must know what is going on inside that foot, Redden said. Learning to read and interpret information on radiographs can help farriers better understand how to protect the health of the foot. 

No two feet are identical, even on the same horse. For each individual foot, information on radiographs reveals the unique characteristics of the coffin bone (the main bone in the foot), its relationship to the hoof capsule, and the relationship of both with the ground.

“What we see when we look at the outside of the foot is the product of internal forces that regulate growth zones in the sole, the wall, and the frog,” Redden said. “These forces constantly change with the amount of growth, the wear and stress of training, excessive moisture, the effects of trimming, shoeing, hours of inactivity, and injury and disease that may be present or chronic and leave scars and weakened areas that can pose soundness issues.”

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