Why do Horses have Hooves?

Equine Sports Massage Therapy

What are Hooves?

Horses are digitigrade which means they walk using their tips of their toes. Because of this, they need a strong, insensitive surface to protect their sensitive toe tips from hard surfaces. Hooves are a keratinised horny hard covering that do just this. A horse’s hooves, therefore, are essential for the animal’s function and survival. Hooves continue to grow throughout the horse’s life. Horses have a single solid hoof on each foot. This can vary in size according to the size of the horse, its breed, and its ability to run and jump.

It is important to take good care of the hooves of domestic horses. These are riding animals, and their hooves are likely to come into contact with various different hard surfaces. These horses therefore have a high risk of developing hoof problems, and paying attention to the maintenance of their hooves can help to prevent these. There are several things an owner can do to ensure optimum hoof health. Remember that a hoof is a living structure. It must therefore be provided with essential nutrients for its growth, strength, and repair functions. Always provide your horse with a well-balanced diet. Make sure to provide constant access to fresh water.
    Trim the wall of your horse’s hooves every two weeks. This will help to smooth out the hoof and remove any irregular parts. When trimming, ensure that the hoof is even and balanced. Balanced hooves help to reduce stress on bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is also very important to choose a properly fitting shoe made from high quality material. Fit the shoe very carefully and make sure to place nails in the correct places. Failing to do so can cause damage to the inner sensitive areas of the hoof. Remove large and small debris from your horse’s frog using a hoof pick and a stiff-bristle brush.


The structure of a hoof

The tips of a horse’s toes are covered and protected by a keratinised hard structure called a hoof. The hoof covers the most distal phalanx known as the coffin bone (or pedal bone). The circular limit of the hoof capsule is called the cornet. This lies between the hoof capsule and the normal skin of the leg. The cornet is also known as a coronary band.

A hoof has four parts, known as the wall, sole, frog, and periople. The wall is the outer cover that protects the sensitive inner structures. This is the part of the hoof that can be seen when the animal is standing.

The thickness of the wall can vary between 6-12 cm. The hoof wall has a hard, horny texture, and is effective at absorbing shock. The hoof wall has no blood vessels or nerve endings. It grows gradually throughout the horse’s life span. Normally it grows by about 3-8 inches per month. It is important to trim the hoof wall to help maintain a balanced hoof. Healthy hooves are inflexible structures. Therefore if an injury occurs inside the hoof, the injured tissue cannot swell to the outside. This tissue remains inside the hoof and can cause lameness. The hoof wall is made up of three layers. The pigmented layer is the outermost layer of the hoof wall. The main role of the pigmented layer is to provide protection. The white line is a line between the sole and the wall. The water line offers support and resistance.

The sole covers the underside of the hoof. The hoof itself is a slightly concave structure. This means that there is only a small portion of the sole which is in contact with the ground. The sole also helps to protect internal structures within the hoof. It is whitish-yellow to yellow-gray in colour.

The frog is a thick, V-shaped structure that projects down from the heels. There is a sulcus (central groove) in its midline. The frog’s main function is to provide shock absorption. Sensitive nerves within the frog help the horse to understand where it is standing.


Why use horseshoes?

Horseshoes are u-shaped metal pieces that help to protect a horse’s hooves from hard and rough surfaces. They cover the bottom part of the hoof. Most horseshoes are made of aluminium or steel. Nails are used to fit shoes to the hoof. There are many different types of horseshoes, each designed for different purposes and for different breeds. Horseshoes can vary in size, shape, thickness, and material. A farrier is a specialist in hoof care who carries out shoeing, trimming, balancing, and other related tasks.

The main benefit of horseshoes is that they protect and maintain a horse’s hoof health. In turn, this can help to maintain other bodily functions, including respiratory, circulatory and immune system functions. Horses are riding animals, so it is important to pay special attention to hoof protection and proper horseshoeing. When a horse rides on hard surfaces its hooves are at a high risk of damage. Horseshoes can help protect the horse from such damages.


The Role of Evolution

In ancient times, horses had relatively short legs, small bodies, four toes on their back legs, and three on their front legs. Scientists believe that millions of years ago, horses were forest dwelling animals, before later moving into the open grassland. As predators could easily identify them on open grasslands, they had to gain the ability to run fast to protect themselves. As a result, their body mass increased and they developed longer legs to help them face this new situation.

As horses’ bodies became heavier and their legs became longer, they lost their side toes, however their middle toe still remained. The middle digit grew larger to carry the animal’s body weight, and a single hoof developed to cover the middle digit. Researchers have found that a single hoof provides better support and and can bear a horse’s weight, allowing it to run faster than if it had many toes. As a result, horses have now developed a hoof on each foot.

Bridle Sensitivity


The Importance of Getting the Right Bridle

The bridle is a piece of equipment used to control a horse’s movements. It consists of three parts; the headstall, the reins, and the bit. The bit is a horizontal metal bar which is placed in the horse’s mouth, in the interdental space. The headstall is a strip of strong, flexible material (usually leather) which is placed around the animal’s head. The reins are connected to both sides of the bit and connect the horse to the rider.  The rider holds the reins on either side of the bit, allowing them to handle the horse while riding. The various types of bridle include snaffle bridles (the most commonly used type of bridle) Weymouth bridles, and bitless bridles

To allow your horse to perform its best, it is essential to ensure that the bridle fits properly. It is important, therefore, for a rider to know the proper method for bridling their horse. Here is a simple guide:

Before you fit the bridle, you should first check whether the saddle is in the correct position. You can use a lead rope to restrain your horse while fitting the saddle. Next, groom your horse sharply. While grooming, it is important to pay attention to the horse’s skin to identify any abnormalities, particularly in the head and saddle areas. If you do spot any problems, it is advisable not to bridle the horse until it has recovered from any issues or disorders. 

Next, check your bridle. It should be clean and in good condition. After having fitted the saddle, you can then fit the bridle.

Make sure to stand on the left side of your horse. This will help to protect your head from any sudden movements from the horse. The headstall should then be placed over the horse’s head. Hold the bit with your left hand and gently press into the horse’s mouth. Make sure you do not knock the bit against the horse’s teeth. Raise the headstall to the horse’s ears and secure it behind them. You can then gently fold the horse’s hair under the reins. Check whether the bit and all the bands that make up the bridle are straight, and that loose strap ends are tucked into their keepers. After that, you should ensure the bridle is in the correct position. You are now ready to start riding!

A horse’s head is a very sensitive area due to the presence of many sensitive nerve endings. In particular, there are many nerve endings in the vicinity of the headstall, and pressure from the bridle can stimulate these, causing pain for the animal. If the bridle is not fitted properly, this can also cause some behavioural changes in your horse, including head shaking, lack of engagement, and aggressive behaviours. Fitting the bridle correctly, therefore, is essential to ensuring a good relationship between rider and horse.

The horse’s head is covered by a very thin skin. Veins and muscles are located under the skin. If the bridle is fitted too tightly, it can cause damage to the skin, muscles, and the underlying tissues. This can be debilitating to the horse and can greatly affect its performance.

It is important to choose a correctly sized bit which will fit the horse’s mouth without causing any irritation. Too narrow or too wide a bit will cause severe pain to the mouth. Additionally, if the bit is placed too low in the horse’s mouth the horse may try to place its tongue over it, or may form a habit of fighting against the bit.

If the bridle is buckled too tightly, this can cause swelling of the bursa (fluid-filled sacs) between the first two cervical vertebrae and the nuchal ligament. The swelling of the bursa can cause pain and head imbalance. This condition causes atrophy of the top-line muscles and also results in the horse developing “ewe” neck.

If the headstall or the reins are overly tight, this can be very uncomfortable for the horse. Tight reins put pressure on the horse’s neck. The horse also requires free movement to chew after the bridle has been fitted. The jaw must be able to move in both directions. If the bridle is fitted too tightly this can lead to muscle cramping in the horse’s jaw.

After a saddle has been properly fitted you should be able to fit your hand under the headstall. If it is difficult to do so, this means that the headstall is too tight. This can place pressure on the horse’s skull which can cause irritation for the horse as well as negatively affecting its performance.

Choosing a Bridle

There are several different types of bridles available, and it is important to choose the correct bridle for your horse’s measurements. Choosing the correct bridle for your horse will ensure its comfort when riding and will help to develop a strong bond between rider and horse. Bridles made from high quality materials can be expensive, however a genuine leather bridle will likely be most comfortable for your horse.  You should clean and oil your bridle properly and regularly to ensure its long-term maintenance. 

  1. Snaffle bridles

This is the most common type of bridle, including a single set of reins. There are various different kinds of snaffle bridle available on the market. Depending on the type of riding you do and your own preferences, you can choose from synthetic leather or genuine leather, and you can choose between lighter or heavier leather.

     2. Weymouth bridles

The Weymouth bridle is also commonly known as a double bridle or a full bridle. It consists of two bits and two sets of reins. There are two types of Weymouth bridles: dressage style double bridles and show style double bridles, which can be differentiated by the texture of the noseband.  A dressage-style bridle has a thicker, crank noseband, whilst a show-style bridle has a flat, traditional style noseband. Both types of bridle usually have a padded headpiece to decrease the amount of pressure on the animal’s head.

     3. Bitless bridles

Bitless bridles can place pressure on key areas of the horse’s head without putting a bit in the horse’s mouth.  The horse is controlled from the noseband rather than via a bit. This type of bridle is normally used as a temporary measure for a horse who has suffered a mouth injury.

     4. Inhand bridles

This type of bridle has a very simple design.


The bridle is an extremely important instrument for controlling a horse. There are different type of bridle available on the market which you can choose from according to your requirements. Fitting the bridle correctly is very important to help maintain your horse’s optimum performance. As a rider, it is your responsibility to choose a suitable bridle so that your horse stays happy and healthy.