Why do Horses have Hooves?

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.

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