3- Dimensional static and dynamic foot balance is essential for neutral and evenly dispersed loading through from the hoof, distal limb and into the center of the horse. Farriers (both barefoot trimming and shoeing) undergo significant training in their profession and are the experts when it comes to ensuring not only hoof care but the foundations for a musculoskeletally sound animal. Farriers are able to modulate grip, slide, leverage and load by taking into account hoof wall, coronet and digital angles, natural conformation, weight, and hoof tissue quality among other factors. Using physics, they can trim and/or shoe your horse to optimize distribution of ground reaction forces, balanced propulsion, appropriate digital cushion and hoof perfusion. 

There are important musculoskeletal structures (deep and superficial digital flexor tendons + Navicular bone) that insert or interact with the distal pedal bone, located deep within the hoof and pastern. Therefore, any deviation from the ideal point of balance, or center of rotation has the potential to put these structures and others under increased or imbalanced loading patterns. Additionally negative palmar angles in the distal limb places increased eccentric loading on the SDFT and DDFT, subjecting them to potential injury and overload. 

Not only do distal limb structures become affected by hoof shape and balance, but a flow on effect of compensation occurs higher up simultaneously. For example, Dr Kilmartin (2014) outlined an example of the implications along the front limb myofascial lines that occur in response to hoof imbalance. He stated that even a small amount of imbalance can cause a change in muscle development and tension in the upper body, “In cases of medio-lateral imbalance in one of the forelimbs where the medial wall of the hoof is more vertical, and the lateral wall is flaring out. Looking at the sole of the hoof the medial wall is higher than the lateral wall. In these cases, the Transverse, Ascending, and Descending Pectoral muscles are working along with the Subscapularis and Brachiocephalic to keep the fore limb under the body. These horses again consistently show pain or reactivity over the cartilage of the scapula.” This statement demonstrates the potential postural compensations a horse may make as a consequence of poor hoof balance. 

Additionally, Dr Ridgway (2016) describes an animal’s response to imbalanced propulsive forces due to high-low hooves, “The horse has to twist his head and neck to keep the eyes level. Horses, therefore, often exhibit muscle pain, stiffness, and spasm at the base of the neck.” This is why it is important to work with both your qualified farrier and physiotherapist to ensure a balanced, and healthy system from the hoof up. 

If you are seeking further information, www.theequinedocumentalist.com is an excellent resource for those wanting to learn more about the relationship between hoof balance and the wider musculoskeletal system.

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