Hoof Examination

Hoof Examination (Hoof Pick & Hoof Tester)

Using the same routine starting with the left front, left hind, right front and right hind. Observe the left front leg starting at the withers and moving down to the ground. The horse’s front legs should be column straight, with both feet firmly on the ground. The horse should look relaxed and not continue looking as if he is trying to get comfortable or show tenderness when walking on hard surfaces. Look for any swelling or other injuries.

The angle of the hoof should be about the same as the slope of the shoulder. This angle/slope should be about 50 degrees(+ or – 5 degrees). The angle of the hoof refers to the degree of angle from the hairline of the hoof to the toe of the hoof. The pastern angle is the angle that allows the three phalanx bones to line up as one continuous angle.

I will list these bones starting from the fetlock to the ground. The first is the Proximal phalanx (P1) or Long Pastern bone, Medial phalanx (P2) or Short Pastern bone and Distal phalanx (P3) or Coffin bone.If the three bones are not lined up due to excess hoof growth or other conditions, a farrier should be called to make that correction.

The next item is outward hoof quality/appearance. The hoof should have a light gloss to it, no cracks and the hoof rings should be even and barely noticeable. The horse should not be walking on the bulbs of the heels. This can be painful for the horse and may reduce its performance level, a farrier should be able to correct this condition.

When you are comfortable that the horse will stand quietly with his foot up, you are ready to do the hoof examination. Using your hoof pick point the tip towards the toe. Insert the hoof pick tip between the groove made by the frog. Firmly but gently remove any dirt and debris with several flicks of the wrist. You may have to practice this a few times to become proficient. When the hoof is clean look for any of the following:

Sole Bruises

A sole bruise will appear as a red spot or black and blue spot. This is caused by stepping on rocks, kicking something or having an impact with a very hard object. A sole bruise is rather common, if the horse is barefoot and there it a lot of rocks where the horse is ridden or kept then you may consider shoeing the horse. Having one or two now and then is normal and should not be a very big concern.


Thrush is no more than a bacterial infection of the frog and surrounding areas on the foot. The affected areas will emit a dark foul smelling ooze. A frog contains a large percentage of moisture and the anaerobic bacteria that cause this problem can thrive there. This is caused by allowing the horse stand for long periods in wet urine/manure areas for extended periods without daily hoof care and cleaning.

If the thrush is allowed to get to an advanced state severe lameness could result. Advanced untreated thrush is a serious condition. The frog is a very important foundational structure, its loss could result in the compromise on the hoof capsule. The best treatment is to keep the horse in a clean dry area/stall, keep feet cleaned and use thrush medication until condition is completely vanished.


Hoof cracks are usually the cause/symptom of either poor nutrition, disease or poor hoof care program (not trimming or shoeing at proper scheduled interval). Cracks can be from the coronary band to the ground.If the hoof crack is caused by damage to the coronary band the crack will probably remain for the life of the horse. Hoof cracks have various and specific descriptions for there location or cause.

Quarter cracks refer to the quarters of the hoof (the sides of hoof closer to the heels than the toe).Toe cracks refer to a crack located near the toe. Toe cracks could also be a sign of an abscess. As the abscess grows in size the hoof can only stretch so far and cracks open, this may also be a sign of laminitis.


A hoof abscess is an infection that can be caused by numerous situations. The horse may produce an abscess by accidental striking of the hoof, foreign object entering a sensitive portion of the hoof or other similar incident. An abscess may be located by placing a hand on the outer hoof to sense heat. Hoof tester my also give an indication of a sensitive spot. To treat soak the hoof in water and Epson salt, if the abscess does not reduce a veterinarian or farrier should treat.

Hoof Temperature

The average normal healthy horse’s hoof should have an ambient hoof temperature. If the horse has a very warm outer hoof, the cause may be inflammation. As discussed earlier that could mean an abscess or laminitis.

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