What Horse Hooves Are Made Of: Complete Guide

One of the most complex parts of the horse, the hoof, is often overlooked. Because injury or damage to your horse’s hooves can severely impact their capabilities, it is important to develop an understanding of proper care practices. In order to do so, we must first learn more about the composition of a horse hoof.

What are horse hooves made of? The visible outer structure of a horse hoof is called the hoof wall and is comprised of a keratinous material that grows continuously. However, horse hooves are much more complex. They also include tissue, bone, nerves, and tendons that all work together to provide stability and protection. 

How do you properly care for your horse’s hooves? What are some of the most common hoof problems? These questions and more will be answered throughout the course of this article. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about your horse’s hooves.

A Complete Guide to Horse Hooves

One of the first chores you learn to do as a beginning rider is grooming your horse. This often includes caring for their hooves. Have you ever wondered why proper hoof care is so important to the health and happiness of your horse? Let’s take a closer look at the many complex parts of a horse’s hoof. 

Anatomy of Horse Hooves

The first thing that comes to mind is the hard, outer layer of the hoof. However, horse hooves are much more complex. With several layers comprised of various bones, nerves, and tissues, there is much to learn regarding the anatomy of a horse hoof.

Outer Layer of Horse Hoof

The most visible portion of the horse hoof is the outer layer. The outer structures include the hoof wall, coronary band, periople, and the laminar layer. 

Hoof Wall

The hard outer layer of the horse hoof is called the hoof wall. This part of the hoof is comprised of a keratinous material that, when healthy, grows continuously. The job of the hoof wall is to provide stability and support, absorbing shock as the horse moves. This layer of the hoof is similar to our fingernails, without nerves or blood vessels. It is important to trim the hoof wall regularly as it grows about ⅜ inches each month.

A health hoof wall should be smooth and is usually constant in color. Because the hoof wall can not expand, damage to internal tissues inside the hoof may lead to cracking, causing extensive damage to the hoof. It is also important to keep an eye out for rings on the hoof as these are often indicative of a disease or health condition.

Coronary Band

At the top of the hoof wall is the coronary band. The coronary band encircles the hoof where the hairline meets the hoof. Although it is often overlooked, the coronary band is responsible for supplying nutrients to the hoof wall and acts as a significant blood supply. If the condition of your horse’s hoof wall is in question, you may consider damage or injury to the coronary band as the culprit.

Periople

Just beneath the coronary band is the periople, a soft area comprised of new hoof wall tissue. The new hoof wall tissue that is found in the periople eventually hardens into the hard outer layer of keratinous material.

Laminar Layer

Directly beneath the hoof wall lies the laminar layer. In addition to providing additional shock absorbance, the laminar layer attaches to the coffin bone found inside the hoof wall. Because the laminar layer is more pliable than the hoof wall, it provides an added layer of protection for the more delicate yet important inner hoof.

Inner Framework of Horse Hoof

Within the protective outer surface lies the inner framework of a horse’s hoof. The tissue, bones, and tendons found within the horse hoof are responsible for support, shock absorption, and flexibility on uneven surfaces.

Coffin Bone

The largest hoof bone is called the coffin bone and is found within the inner framework of the hoof, near the toe. The coffin bone is largely responsible for the shape of the hoof. While shoeing horses, it is important that you take great caution to avoid damage to the coffin bone as damage to this bone can impair your horse’s ability to walk.

Digital Cushion

At the back of the hoof below the coffin bone lies the digital cushion. This cushion acts as the primary method of shock absorption for horses. Comprised of a cartilaginous material, the digital cushion is not able to regenerate if it is compromised due to excessive weight or crushing.

Navicular Bone

Behind the coffin bone, you will find the navicular bone. This small bone is largely responsible for allowing the hoof to tilt and accommodate for uneven terrain. Without the stabilization and flexibility provided by the navicular bone, your horse would be unable to tilt its hoof in any direction. 

Within the inner framework of the horse’s hoof, there are also two connection points for major tendons. The extensor tendon is attached to the coffin bone and is responsible for straightening the leg. The deep digital flexor tendon wraps around the navicular bone and is responsible for bending the leg.

Underneath a Horse Hoof

Finally, we reach the third section of a horse’s hoof and the part that you likely interact with most frequently. The underside of a horse hoof protects the hoof, supports the weight of the horse, and provides the horse with better traction.

Sole

While the sole of the hoof is found at the bottom, it barely makes contact with the ground due to its concave shape. Made of a keratin material similar to that of the hoof wall, the sole protects the inner framework of the horse’s hoof. A healthy sole will also prevent germs and disease from entering the hoof and wreaking havoc. The best way to gauge the health of your horse’s sole is to inspect the tissues of the white line that is found between the hoof wall and the sole. 

Frog & Sulci

The most sensitive nerves in a horse’s hoof are found in the frog. This v-shaped structure found under the hoof acts as a protective barrier for the digital cushion. However, more importantly, the nerves in the frog help your horse to know where they are standing, and if the surface they are on is stable.  

On both sides and in the center of the frog, you will find the central and laterally sulci. These grooves should be carefully cleaned and maintained to avoid thrush or other diseases from developing.

Bars

The final element of a horse’s hoof that we will discuss is the bars. These are extensions of the hoof wall that strengthen the heel and add additional support to the hoof as a whole.

Properly Caring for Your Horse’s Hooves

There are many things you can do regularly to contribute to the overall health of your horse’s hooves. The best way to ensure that your horse’s hooves are in optimal condition is to work with a hoof care expert or farrier regularly. A farrier will be able to safely trim the hoof wall, examine the hoof for signs of disease, and prevent damage to the hoof.

In addition to routine care from a farrier, it is important to care for your horse’s hooves through proper cleaning, dietary supplements, and hydrating hoof sealants. A farrier or veterinarian can provide you with more in-depth information regarding proper hoof care and maintenance. To learn about how often your horse’s hooves need to be attended to, check out our article Horse’s Feet Trim Frequency: Easy Guide.

Common Problems With Horse Hooves

Injury or infection of your horse’s hooves can greatly impact their ability to walk, potentially forever. For this reason, it is important to learn some of the most common warning signs of various hoof ailments.

 

  • Thrush: An infection of the frog of the hoof. Often identified by black discharge on or around the front and an unpleasant odor.
  • Hoof Bruise: Caused by trauma to the hoof. Often identified by discoloration to the sole or the hoof wall.
  • White Line Disease: An infection between the hoof wall and the sole that can lead to additional disease within the hoof. 
  • Hoof Abscess: An infection within the inner framework of the hoof.
  • Laminitis: Inflammation to the laminae of the hoof often recognizes by hooves that are warm to the touch or exhibit a strong pulse.
  • Quarter Crack: A vertical crack in the side hoof wall. Most often found between the heel and widest part of the hoof. 
  • Navicular Syndrome: Pain in the heel or navicular bone caused by a variety of situations.

 

If you notice strange behavior or an odd appearance to your horse’s hooves, it is important to consult your veterinarian immediately. Early treatment of these common ailments will provide you with the best possible outcome. With most hoof injuries, you’ll want to wrap the hoof to provide comfort and protection from bacteria. To learn how to wrap a horse hoof, click here.

By developing an appreciation of and knowledge of the complexity of a horse’s hoof, I hope that you will be able to provide your horse with the hoof care they both need and deserve. Without healthy hooves, your horse will be unable to participate in the tasks that both of you enjoy. 

I hope you found this article helpful! Regularly picking out your horse’s hooves is one of the most effective ways to care for them. To learn how to properly clean out your horse’s hooves, check out our article Cleaning a Horse’s Hooves: Easy Illustrated Guide.

 

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