The Up And Down Of It – The Rest Of The Front Limb

I’ve talked in previous articles (ie. Speed Kills) about the importance of straightness of the fore limb. A quick summary goes something like this; the horse’s front legs act as supporting/foundation pillars. Crooked supports and those too thin for the weight above crack and eventually break.

If a person plans to ride their horse on its forehand, do speed events, race their horse, jump it or any other activity that stresses those front legs by specifically weighting and torquing them, then straightness and substance should rate high on the conformation criteria scale.

If, on the other hand, a person plans to correctly gymnasticize their horse asking for a shift of weight rearward onto the spring-like hind limbs on a consistent basis, and be considerate of the horse during cross-training, then fore limb crookedness and substance, while still important, can drop a notch.

The conformation pictures we have of our sample horses do not allow us to view much in the way of front limb crookedness, so when considering a horse for purchase or breeding one should insist on additional views. There are still some important conformation aspects we can look at from our side view shots; knee alignment, pastern and cannon bone length, pastern slope and toe to heel foot balance.

Knee alignment – when viewed from the side, the horse’s knee should ‘pop’ out a little bit.  If there’s a perfectly straight line down the front of the leg then the horse is too straight through the knee and calf-kneed.  This is a significant fault, and if the knee falls clearly behind that line it becomes a serious fault on similar terms to ewe-necks, post leggedness and poorly placed LS joints.  If the knee ‘pops’ too much, it’s also a fault, though not as severe as calf-knees, and is called over-at-the-knee, or buck knees.  You’ll see this latter type of knee fault quite frequently in Thoroughbreds.

Note:  Farriers should never try and ‘fix’ these kinds of knee conformation faults by trimming feet to lessen the effects.  And yes, many do try.  The last horse I worked on that was significantly over-at-the- knees and had a farrier trying to shoe it out of the horse, the horse broke a coffin bone from the stress being placed on the foot.  The horse also suffered from significant pain at the base of his neck, through his shoulders and withers.

Pastern and Cannon bone length – there’s no specific measurement for cannon bone length.  It’s an eyeball measurement about what constitutes longer vs shorter, however, if the horse’s knee is placed relatively high in relation to the ground, the cannon bone length is likely to be long and if the knee is relatively low in relation to the ground, the cannon bone length is likely to be short.  A short forearm is often accompanied by a long cannon bone, but not always as in some cases a long scapula, short forearm, short cannon bone can exist.   While people may disagree on cannon bone length in a specific horse, most everyone will agree that a short cannon bone is preferable for almost all horses.  Longer cannon bones would be part of the requirements for the action of gaited horses.

Fortunately, pastern length is much easier to determine.  If the pastern is greater than 75% the length of the cannon bone, the pastern is long.  If the pastern is less than 50% the length of the cannon bone than the pastern is short.

The slope of the pastern should be such that it can absorb concussive shock.  It does NOT have to be equal to the horse’s shoulder slope and it is not a fault if the two are different.

Note: Farriers should not try and make a horse’s pastern slope equal to the horse’s shoulder slope through trimming or shoeing means.  And yes, some do.  The foot should always be trimmed for balance in direct relationship to the underlying foot structures, not outward appearances.

Pasterns that are overly sloped can place too much stress on tendons and ligaments, straining or tearing them, and can also cause the horse to smack the back of the fetlock on the ground, risking fracture of the sesamoid bones.

Pasterns that are overly upright reduce the ability to absorb concussive shock, in turn creating abnormal wear and tear on joints and bone, early onset of arthritic conditions and stress fractures.

In this area the best structure for the horse is a medium pastern length of medium slope.  While longer, more sloping pasterns can provide a ‘softer’ riding experience, it is at the possible expense of the horse’s soundness.  By the same token, short, overly upright pasterns should also be avoided.

It should be noted that short, or upright, or short and upright pasterns do not in and of themselves created a ‘short and choppy’ stride as is often reported.  It is the humerus bone, its length, horizontal orientation and/or the existence of a closed shoulder angle that creates a ‘short choppy’ stride (as discussed in a previous article – The Up And Down Of It – Humerus Bone).  What a short, or upright, or short and upright pastern will do is create a more ‘jarring’ riding experience.

Foot balance –  this topic really requires an entire article or two or three of its own, but I did want to mention here that foot balance or foot imbalance can be the difference between night and day for a horse, how it stands, how sound it stays, and how well it performs at any level.

Some horses are more sensitive to foot imbalances than others.  Typically horses with good, solid and relatively proper bone structure above can stand up better to foot imbalances, often not showing signs until years later.  By the same token, more stoic, survival intense personalities or those with strong constitutions will be less sensitive to foot imbalances as showing weakness to the world means certain death.

Regardless of the horse, this is one area that the average horse owner doesn’t pay enough attention to by taking the quality of farrier work as a given.  After all, they are the professionals so they should know, right?  Wrong.  Like any profession there will always be members who are poor, most will be average, and a few will be excellent.   The saying, ‘no foot, no horse’ exists for a reason – because it’s true.

I can’t emphasize the importance of proper foot balance for horses enough.  If you’ve never thought about it before, you should be getting that awful pit in your stomach feeling right now that you’ve missed something really important all these years.  Yes, even if your horse/s aren’t currently head bobbing lame or have/are performing successfully.

Now it’s time to take a look at our sample horses and see how they measure up.

Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion


This horse is too straight through the knee and therefore is a bit calf-kneed.

We measure the cannon bone from mid knee to mid fetlock joint and we measure the pastern from mid fetlock joint to P1.  Then to get our pastern percentage we divide the pastern measurement by the cannon bone measurement.  This horse has a short cannon bone and his pastern is right about 50% the length of it.  His pastern is also upright.  Without actually being able to measure the circumference of his cannon bone to determine if he carries the minimum requirement of 7” per thousand pounds, we’re going to have eyeball it.  IMO, I don’t think this horse carries quite enough bone.

When we consider that this horse is also downhill built putting more weight on the forehand, we might begin to get nervous about the prospects of him staying sound.  Those upright, shorter (but not technically ‘short’) pasterns are going to reduce his ability to absorb concussive forces, which puts even more strain on the calf-knees, which is as I mentioned earlier, is a pretty serious fault.

While I’m not embracing what I see so far from this lower limb, I’m not entirely turned off and here’s why:  the horse is the sum of his parts and as far as we’ve delved so far, this horse has a superior loin and haunch.  That means that if this horse can utilize his haunch, he’ll be able to lift weight off his forehand relieving tremendous stress off those forelimbs.  We can then be more forgiving of the imperfections up front.

Since he is a stallion, it would be prudent to get that front view angle photograph to further assess the straightness or crookedness of the front legs.  If it turned out that everything else was in order, and the stallion had proven himself in performance (and stayed sound on those front legs), then at that point (and assuming we don’t find anything else we don’t like going further in this conformation study) a complementary mare would be one that possessed perfectly aligned knees and pasterns that sloped a bit more generously.  If she also possessed a touch more length to those pasterns, that would be a bonus.

We can’t see this horse’s feet to comment in that regard.


Horse #2 – QH Gelding


Your first inclination may be to say that this horss is also calf-kneed, but he’s not.  His stance of front legs too far underneath the body can give the illusion of calf-knees.  If he was standing correctly, he’d have perfectly aligned knees from side.  They also appear to be of substantial size.  In general this horse carries more substance than our QH stallion.  His cannon bone is short and his pastern is an ideal medium length, though more upright.  This horse is also short in his forearm with a lot of fore limb length taken up by his scapula.  This isn’t a fault, but it affects lateral movement.  A horse structured like this may find he hits himself if asked for too deep a lateral movement, particularly if heavy on the forehand.  Fortunately, he has that good length of humerus bone to help.

The big issue for this horse is his feet.  Here we can clearly see those front feet are horrendously unbalanced, such that he’s actually broken back in the pastern.  Undoubtedly the feet are why this horse is standing awkwardly in front on the points of his coffin bones.  If this horse isn’t obviously lame on these front feet, it’s a wonder and the owner can thank this horse’s otherwise solid bone structure and stoicism.


Horse #3 – 4yr old QH


This horse has a well-aligned knee and short cannon bone.  His pastern is as the upper most end of medium in length and has a very pleasing slope.  The only thing that would make this lower leg combination better is a bit more substance, otherwise it’s very good and very functional.  We can’t see this horse’s feet to assess.


Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion


I’ve talked a bit about this horse’s front leg issues in a previous article (or comments section).   His knees are higher than ideal from cannon bones longer than ideal and this gives him a shortened forearm.  His right knee is bucked a bit and the right pastern more upright than the left because of his obvious clubbed foot.  The pastern length is otherwise fine.

I’m not a fan of clubbed feet, even though many horses go on to have serviceable lives, some even in higher performance.  Club feet are hereditary and require an above average skilled farrier to recognize them, not try to fix them etc…  This horse shows quite a bit of difference between those front feet – even with the left front foot also showing a clubby look – and difference between legs (steeper pastern, higher fetlock and knee joint, bucked knee) such that that unevenness has no choice but to carry on up his limbs, into his shoulders, into his withers, into his neck, and along the length of his back.   He’s only four in this picture, but as he ages the asymmetry in his fore limbs is going to wear on his body.

When I also take into account the serious fault of his table top croup and the camel withers, which we’ve discussed before, I can only conclude that the best thing to do for the breed is to cull this one and geld him no matter how good the rest of his conformation that we have not yet talked about.


Horse #5 – TB Gelding


Our TB is as straight through the knee as we want to see.  It’s actually quite nice seeing one that isn’t over-at-the-knee or tied in.  Here we have a horse that stands over a lot of air and that’s essentially because he’s got a lot of leg length in general.  Even though he has excellent bone proportions throughout the entire limb, his cannon bone and pastern are on the longish side of things.  He also lacks the most substance of all our sample horses.  On the positive side of things, his joints, tendons and ligaments look very clean.  If a front view revealed good straightness throughout, this isn’t a terrible set of front legs by a long shot.  They’re functional and with a little consideration they should serve this horse well enough.

We can’t quite see all the front feet, but we can determine for sure that this horse doesn’t have those ‘racetrack’ feet.  He might be a bit boxy in those front feet if anything.

One other thing I’d like to point out is the muscling of the forearm.  Take a moment to scroll back and compare the amount of muscling on our TB and Arab to our three QH’s.  While we expect there to be a difference, it’s a bit too much.  Our TB, in particular, is lacking in this department.


Horse #6 – Paint Mare


It’s really hard to see this horse’s knee alignment.  I think she’s okay, though.  Her cannon bone length is okay, as is her pastern length and slope.  Her feet on the other hand are not balanced and do her no favors.  I’d like to see her carry a bit more bone as well.

If I was teacher and she a student, she’d easily get a passing grade on this subject, but I’d write to her parents that I felt she’d underachieved somewhat.  Her legs are good enough for our TB to stay sound on, but she’s not our TB.  She’s our Paint mare with the weak loin, the too long scapula, the too low point of shoulder, the downhill build, the bit too long back, the bit too short and a bit too horizontal humerus, and we haven’t even got to that neck yet.  This makes me want to see that front view of her fore limbs because any crookedness there and my thoughts about her being able to stay sound on them becomes debateable.  At the time of this photo, she did have clean joints, tendons and ligaments, so that bodes well moving forward.



36 thoughts on “The Up And Down Of It – The Rest Of The Front Limb

  1. This may be a weird question, but I’m not a horse person, so forgive me…but, why are they called “knees” when they are actually wrist joints?

    • That was a question on QI over here (UK) recently.

      It is strictly speaking a “wrist”.

      A knee joins the femur (thighbone) and the tibia (shinbone) whereas a wrist joins the radius (forearm) and the carpus (the bit the digits are joined to). The bit between its body and the middle of the leg is the forearm. What we think of as the ‘lower leg’ is analogous to our third metacarpal – the bone linking our wrist to our middle finger. Horses walk around on the equivalent of their middle fingers.

      • Ok – thank you both! Here I thought that there was some kind of sensible reason for it, but no, it’s just because people are people.

    • because to average people they look more like human knees than the horse’s real knees look like knees. The movement in the joint is more knee like than wrist like as well as four directional movement really isn’t pemissable. Imagine for generations explaining to people with little formal education to call what looks and moves more like a human knee a wrist. Sometimes you just go with the collective ignorance of the masses.

  2. “This horse is also short in his forearm with a lot of fore limb length taken up by his scapula.” Can you elaborate further on this comment about the roan gelding?

    • I’m not sure what you want me to elaborate on. He has a lot of length to his scapula and could stand to have some more to his forearm.

      Imagine shortening the scapula one inch (move point of shoulder up one inch from where it is. Now add that inch to the forearm bone and move the horse’s elbow up one inch. Now the horse has a proportionately longer forearm without having changed anything else. His knee would look ‘visually’ closer to the ground than it does currently, and he’d look longer legged in front. The elbow would closer to hock height.

      It’s a minor change, but it would make some interesting changes in how he moved.

      Another way to do it is to lift that point of shoulder by taking away one inch at the base of the scapula. This would cause the humerus to become more vertical and the shoulder angle more open. Now add the inch back to the forearm bone keeping the humerus on this new slope.

      Yet another way would be to leave the scapula as it is, shorten the humerus by one inch from the elbow and add it to the forearm bone. Again, that’s going to have an affect on how the horse moves.

      There are other ways of doing, like taking half an inch from the cannon bone and pastern and adding the full inch to the forearm.

      Or we could just leave everything the same and simply add an inch of length to his forearm, lifting his entire upper front end by an inch. And so on…

      In the end, all these ways proportionately make the forearm longer.

      • Got it, I was over-thinking. Too bad we couldn’t see videos of these horses moving to drive home how the various lengths affect movement and how we can most help the horses overcome a weakness. As in, riding a long backed or long loined horse effectively causing the horse to lift its back and build muscle instead of becoming hollow, which would be easier for the horse, causing more premature damage than necessary.

        • For that we need blog participants to provide conformation photos and video, before and after. It’s a big commitment of time and putting yourself out there. So far we’ve only had one person do that and I expect at some point she’ll be back to update us all with new pics and video.

          • I hope she does – she obviously wants to improve and has the guts to put it out there. Commendable.

  3. I see the description, “nice, long cannons,” over and over on thoroughbred rehoming sites. I groan a little inside each time I read it.

    • It is an interesting advertising ploy – making a weakness/negative sound like a strength/positive. If there wasn’t so much ignorance in the equine world, sellers wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

  4. Mercedes, You state that “Longer cannon bones would be part of the requirements for the action of gaited horses.” I ride an Icelandic and as a breed they tend to have relatively short cannon bones and most can both trot and tolt. Can you further explain what you mean by your statement about longer cannon bones and the relationship with gaiting? Thanks!

    • You can find that explanation in the previous article about the humerus bone. There’s a certain conformation required for the high stepping gaited action of Saddlebreds and the like that starts with the orientation of the humerus bone, the shoulder angle and the placement of the knee – the latter set higher because of a long cannon bone.

      The difference between a jumping horse that gets knees to ears and a high stepping gaited horse is just the placement of the knee via a difference of cannon bone length.

      So it’s not about being ‘able to gait’, but to be able to obtain that Hackney/Saddlebred/Plantation Horse etc… action.

  5. Thanks for the explanation. I had read the humerus bone article but had failed to make the connection. I went to Worldfengur, the international studbook of the Icelandic horse and looked up a horse who had a 9 out of 10 for leg quality AND a 9 out of 10 for tolt ability. I found Jarl frá Miðkrika, a World Champion in 4 gaits (walk, trot, tolt, and canter–no flying pace) who meets these criteria (although his legs joints rated 7.5 just slightly above average). Here is a video:

    I have been told that a more refined conformation in Icelandics is correlated with ability for high stepping leg action. So I will ask my contacts who know a lot more that I do about Icelandic horse conformation if length of cannon bone has also been noted to correlate with high stepping ability in tolt.
    In one of your postings, you pointed out that a downhill build can help with racing speed. An Icelandic judge stated the same about speed in flying pace races.
    By the way, I very much enjoy reading your blog and the associated postings. I am learning a lot.

    • You must remember that how a horse is ridden can greatly affect the way they move, including action.

      When a horse is ridden with their head held high and tight by the hand like so many gaited horses, this causes the back to hollow, the haunch/hocks to trail and the front leg to lose striding length and create a more up and down sewing machine action. While this is praised in the show ring, it’s wrong all day long, every day, just as if it was a dressage horse.

      Stop the video at 1:28 and there is exactly what I’ve described above. The rider forcibly holds the horse’s head high and tight (and you can see the horse gaping its mouth throughout the video), the base of neck is dropped and bulging, the back hollow and the hocks trailing. Note during this entire time, and what follows from this false framing, are front legs with very little stride length and a whole lot of piston-like action, because the horse’s shoulder is blocked by the rider’s hand and the tension of a whole lot of wrong muscles being triggered.

      It isn’t until about 2:20 that the rider releases the horse’s head and lets the horse carry it in a more natural and comfortable fashion. He still holds the throat closed, but the shoulder becomes less blocked, the back becomes significantly less hollow and the hind legs begin to come underneath the horse. At this point notice how much longer the striding of the front leg becomes, the action less piston like and rounder in the stroke. Stop the video at 2:40, 2:46 etc… and look at the reach forward of the foreleg and how much further the hocks come forward and push off under the horse. (You said this horse didn’t do the ‘flying pace’ – not sure what that is – but the horse is quite clearly ‘pacing’ in this section where his head was allowed lower.)

      What we most often see in gaited riding is riders forcibly blocking, creating tension, contorting and hollowing the horse’s body to change the timing of the gaits. This is not the way it should be done. The horse should be able to tolt, pace, rack, speed walk, fill in your gait of choice, and do it without all the forcing and tension and artificial means. But understand for that to happen requires skill, time, patience, knowledge, understanding… While I hold out hope that it may someday happen, I’m certainly not holding my breath.

      I stopped the video later on during the walk to have a look at the length of the cannon bone. It seems fine, neither particularly short or long. What I did see was the stacked feet and though I couldn’t tell if it was just extra growth or extra growth and pads, I don’t like it either way.

      The whole ‘refined’ comment is b.s. Refinement has nothing to do with high stepping action. What likely happened is that a particularly refined individual, or set of refined individuals had the kind of conformation that produced the action someone wanted and that someone mistakenly labeled the refinement as the reason for the action, instead of the conformation.

      • I’m not seeing a pace as you described but a more diagonal 4-beat which I assume is the tolt. Stop at 2:55, it is almost a trot except for timing of footfalls.

  6. Mercedes,
    Yes, the rider can greatly influence the way the horse is ridden. And we can debate how this horse is ridden.
    However around minute 2:20, the horse goes into a trot not a less restrained tolt so the horse becomes less hollow. This is a 4-gait competition so the horse and rider demo walk, trot, slow tolt, fast tolt, and canter.
    As for you noticing stacked feet, I wonder if you can point out where you see that. FEIF rules are very strict about shoeing ([works out to be regular key shoes) and hoof angle which must conform to conformation of horse. FEIF state “The material used must not exceed the specific weight of standard iron. The shoe may have a maximum thickness of 10.0 mm [.29 inches] and width of 23.0 mm [.9 inches] (wear and tear included), and must be of an even shape” “Leather and synthetic rings or soles of a thickness of max. 5.0 mm and following the shape of the shoe are allowed between hoof and shoe.” “The angle of the hoof must be in line with the pastern. The hoof length must be natural and not exceed 9.5 cm. …Any artificial lengthening is forbidden.”

    • Great to see those rules existing! I can’t pause the video without it becoming blurry and the white boots hide the feet, so I could very well be wrong. However, pull out a metric ruler to see just how long 9.5cm is. Then add another 1.5cm to that for the shoe and padding, for a total of up to 11cm.

      Now that you have a visual of that kind of length, imagine it as the toe length on a tiny Icelandic pony foot. For those that can’t visualize it, take the ruler out to your barn and measure the toe length on your own full size horse (that’s recently been trimmed and not seriously overdue), or better yet, if you have a pony of Icelandic size. I will try and remember to measure the toe length of the Hanoverian I’m working with tomorrow and report back.

      Stacked doesn’t just refer to ‘stacks of padding’, but also to carrying more heel/wall/toe than is naturally normal for the hoof.

      • Reporting back: 16h+ Hanoverian of medium substance – barefoot behind carrying a little over 7.5cm. Doesn’t require trimming. She is wearing shoes in front and several weeks overdue and carrying close to an inch too much length. She should be carrying right about 8cm in front.

      • Adding: that how much foot length a horse carries naturally is in direct relation to the length of P1 and P2. More length in those bones translates to more foot length naturally, less length is those bones translates to less foot length naturally.

  7. I’ll measure my Icelandic’s hoof also. The circumference of my horse’s front cannon bone is 10 1/4 inches and he wears a size one shoe (my horse is very stocky even for an Icelandic).

    FEIF is continually discussing what proper hoof length should be for the health of the horse. FEIF is working with the University of Zürich, and Vejle Equine Clinic, to discuss current shoeing requirements, “hoof length and optimum weight bands”. At the end of the study, competition rules may be altered based on results.

    • Yep, that’s awesome bone substance on your Icelandic. Wouldn’t have it any other way, frankly. How much does he weigh?

      It’s hard for me to visual the size of the shoe because not all makes and types of shoes are sized the same way…just like clothes and the like. My 14.2 Stbd gelding wore size 3’s in front and 2 1/2’s behind (which are good sized shoes), weighed maybe 900lbs on a fat day and bone was over 8″. I know that none of my Stbds, even the trotters, which typically carry about a 1/4″ more toe length in front than pacers, ever carried more than 3 1/4″ toes and that’s long, though I’ve know some people ran them as long as 3 1/2″. Never had a pacer wear a toe length longer than 3″, which as you know is 7 1/2cm as a point of reference.

      I love hearing that the FEIF is proactive.

  8. His weight is usually around 960 lbs but can go up easily if we don’t really watch his feedings. He gains weight on air. He is very stocky for an Icelandic.

    And I found another paragraph about hoof length in the FEIF rules–it varies by the height of the horse. “The hoof length must be natural and not exceed 9.0cm. Exceptions to the 9.0cm
    rule can be made when stick measurements at the withers are 137-144 cm. These
    horses are allowed a hoof length of 9.5cm.” This is still more than you recommend but not quite as bad as I first posted.

    And FEIF does try to be proactive. The video that I posted was from 2007. In 2010, FEIF invited Dr. Heuschmann to look at the how the tolt of the Icelandic horses was being judged and speak at their anual conference about the results. In light of his comments, sports judges then discussed how rules for evaluation needed to be changed to take into account Dr. Heuschmann’s findings. Here is a link to the videos:

    It is fascinating to listen to Dr. Heuschmann’s comments about dynamic tension in riding the tolt.

    • The longer the foot is allowed to grow beyond what is truly natural for the horse, the more stress you place on the horse. Even if the hoof is otherwise balanced front to back and laterally, there’s increased stress. When you add speed you increase the stress exponentially.

      The reason to grow the foot longer than natural in gaited horses including those Stbds is for one reason only…to change the action and timing of the stride. The reason to add weight to the foot is also to change the action and timing of the stride. In other words, to have the horse move in a manner that it’s structure didn’t intend it to move naturally.

      Done right, with proper conditioning and consideration you can ‘enhance’ the stride/gait and not harm the horse in the moment, but long term I’m not convinced things haven’t happened that otherwise wouldn’t have if you’d just gone with what nature gave the horse.

      Remember that the frog is suppose to touch the ground to work properly. Just putting shoes on a horse can alter its ability to work, but when you don’t remove excess heel, wall and toe, then put pads and shoes, it can’t touch the ground at all. And yes, the frog will grow in excess itself as well if not worn off naturally by the ground, but mostly when it gets excessive it sloths off.

      When a horse grows excess toe or wall the hoof chips pieces off where the most stress is being placed and then wears those areas round, etc., etc. When a shoe is on this can’t happen.

      When a hoof is longer than it naturally should be, it’s got a pad/s on and a shoe then the soft tissue of the leg can easily be over stretched and hyper extended particularly when speed is added. The fetlock bends deeper than it should because of those ‘platform’ feet.

      • Absolutely. And shoes need to be reset often, 4-6 weeks in most cases to keep the horse’s angles and lengths appropriate. I want the entire wall trimmed equal to the sole and heels backed to match the buttress, not 1/4″ in front of it. When the shoe comes off, even after 5 weeks, the heel has grown forward considerably, putting the weight bearing forward which in turn lengthens tendons. You can take a pic right after fresh shoes, draw a line from heel perpendicular up the leg and then again in several weeks, the line moves forward. Significantly in some horses. My unproven theory is that this is the demise of many shod horses, not necessarily shoeing in and of itself.
        Another theory, do we do justice to our horses cleaning their hooves out daily? I wonder if the soil that is packed against the frog doesn’t actually contribute to normal hoof mechanism. And we get in there and dig every spec of crud out of and leave the frog no longer supported, except by itself. Naturally, a horse would rarely stay long enough in a wet environment to develop severe thrush as they are constantly on the move foraging. I have no science behind this theory but I do wonder if we may be overdoing this ‘essential’ good horsekeeping habit.

        • You may not have any science to back up your theory, but I’ve had more than enough time with horses to have tried several experiments, including not doing daily picking out of hooves of horses that are turned out 24/7 on several acres for years.

          As you say, they didn’t stand in extreme wet conditions, though had access to ponds, which they often went in. Varied terrain, rocky sections, meadow sections etc… Anyway, their feet didn’t suffer from thrush or anything like that.

          Clearly, horses that spend time in confined areas where they have to/or do stand in urine and manure, daily cleaning is a requirement for hoof health.

          • I actually had my Stbds reset every 3-4 weeks. A quarter inch of foot, or one degree off can be the difference between winning and breaking stride.

        • I know you said “most” but the frequency of when shoes need to be reset depends entirely on:
          hoof growth, the general environment and management, Footform, what work the horse is doing and NOT on how long. My horses go on average 7 weeks in winter and 6 weeks in summer and all are in regular work.

          Your theory is not backed up by science of any substantive evidence. I’m aware of the untested junkscience often touted round by those “barefoot trimmers” and internet trained “pediatrists” that suggests that a horse’s packing the sucus with whatever crap it happens to have stepped in is “natural” and a Good Thing – but ask yourself, “Does ‘anaerobic’ mean ‘lack of oxygen’?
          And it sure as hell does – than what difference does it make to an anaerobe how that environment was created? Makes no difference whether it’s “natural crap and mud” or something that was in a nice paddock. The salient point being that if there’s no free oxygen handy, anaerobes can grow and proliferate.

          In nature horses aren’t sound every day. Naturally they don’t wear shoes. Naturally they’re not required to be ridden. In nature if they don’t have traction then they slip and fall. In nature they get lame, they get bad feet, they get thrush and canker and they get Fusobacterium necrophours.

          IF you want you can of course leave it to chance and hope you don’t have any anaerobes at the back of that soil packed in there. But if you want to have a sound horse and reduce the risk of having anaerobe then as good husbandry or prophylactic meticulous daily hoof picking is not a bad idea.

  9. I measured several horses’ front hooves today from hair line down the angle to tip (not including shoe). Ok, I am quite willing to admit that my measurements may not be the most precise. Most of the measurements were taken on a concrete floor. Here are the results–representing the work of 3 different farriers:

    Horse A very stocky Icelandic gelding- -just about 4 inches even in week 5 of a 6 week shoeing program. Note my horse above is shoed by what farrier says is needed for his conformation not by Icelandic competition standards and the horse’s hooves grow quite quickly.
    Horse B Appendix QH gelding 16 hands 3 1/4 inches
    Horse C AngloArab mare estimated 15 + hands 3 7/8 inches
    Note this horse’s hooves are very deep. It is impossible to take off more from this horse and Horse D without slicing off the bottom of the foot.
    Horse D AngloArab mare estimated 16 hands 3 5/8 Deep hooves half sister to Horse C (2 weeks into 8 week schedule)
    Horse E Anglo Arab gelding 3 1/4 inches Half brother to C and D
    Horse F rangy Appaloosa 3 1/2 inches Note this horse has really long toes and really needed to be trimmed weeks ago.

    Taking the measurements sparked a lot of good discussion among the folks at the stable today about what is, and is not, good shoeing. Also how the shape and length of the hoof can vary tremendously across individual. I also came to the conclusion that specifying length of hoof as way to avoid long toes is basically useless since the horse with really bad hooves had one of the shorter measurements.

    Note that the Icelandic breed standard calls for: “Very deep hooves with concave soles, well shaped, round and good looking, strong walls and soles, one colour and preferably dark. Large frog and strong heels.”

    I also took some pictures but I can’t figure out how to post them.

    • To an extent measurements are irrelevant.

      The size of a foot doesn’t correlate at all to what is good trimming or to what is good shoeing.

      It doesn’t even really correlate to what is good general hoof conformation.

      Consequently it would be absolutely dumb to be specifying a measurement length and for sure it would be stark staring dumb to use a measurement as a way to avoid long toes.

      Of course a lot of horses have feet so poor that it’s obviously “poor” from appearance.

      Then a lot have their feet so badly managed that it’s obvious to a blind man that their toes are too long, but the only really accurate way to precisely check that is to get an x ray and to see where the bones are in relation to the hoof capsule and also as it relates to pastern axis etc alignment.

  10. As I stated in another comment, natural foot length has to do with the length of P1 and P2. If those bones are longer, the horse will naturally carry more foot length…and has to. That can be breed related.

    Also, we’re assuming that all these toe lengths are from balanced feet. In other words, we’re assuming none of the horses are suffering from LTLH syndrome, which will skew the numbers tremendously.

    Another good exercise is to measure inside and outside wall lengths on all four feet as part of checking for lateral balance.

    To post pictures you need to put them on a photo website of some sort; flickr, photobucket and then link them in the comments section.

    • is the email mercedes at I will try to work this weekend on a history of saddle breds with some photos from late 19th century/early 20th century saddlebreds, both being ridden and conformation shots. You can add commentary on how function follows conformation as you see fit. In doing some research and more looking at the horses, it is a breed that still has a lot to offer if the fads of the park seat riding style can be overcome. It is very much a riding horse, something most of us never actually get to ride.

    • There are a few people who do a really good job of this, painting on either the bones or the muscles, and it can be really helpful for visualization learning, especially when the horse starts moving in various gaits, jumps, engages, etc…

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