How To Evaluate The Equine Hoof Capsule

Understanding the mechanism of hoof capsule distortion allows the farrier to formulate a treatment plan

The hoof capsule comprises the hoof wall, sole, frog and bulbs of the heels; which, through the unique continuous bond between its components, form a casing on the ground surface of the limb that affords protection to the soft tissue and osseous structures enclosed within the capsule.

The hoof wall is a viscoelastic structure that has the ability to deform under load and then return to its original shape when the weight is removed. It is well accepted that abnormal weight distribution on the foot or disproportionate forces placed on a section of the hoof will, over time, cause it to assume an abnormal shape.

These abnormal stresses within the foot will also predispose the foot to injury or disease. Increased stress or weight bearing placed on a section of the hoof capsule may originate from a single source or it may be from multiple contributing factors such as abnormal limb conformation, strike pattern, amount of work, type of footing and inappropriate farrier practices.

Excess stress placed on one section of the hoof capsule can manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as compressed growth rings, flares or under running of the hoof wall, dorsal migration of the heels and either focal or diffuse displacement of the coronary band.

Distortion of the hoof capsule of the forelimbs appears to be related to limb alignment and load, where as deformation in the hind feet seems to be different and related to propulsion. As the hoof capsule distortion of the forelimbs…

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Stephen O’Grady

Stephen O’Grady is a veterinarian and farrier with a practice at Northern Virginia Equine, in Marshall, Va. He is a member of the International Equine Veterinarians Hall Of Fame and the American Farriers Journal Editorial Advisory Board. He maintains a Web site at

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