Danny Love's Farrier's Corner /
KBR Horse Health Information

Care AND Prevention

Summary Notes by Willis Lamm:
1998 Charles Heumphreus Memorial Lecture & Clinical Demonstration
January 24, 1998; UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

Guest Speakers:
Dr. Robert Bowker and Mr. Gene Ovnicek

Lecture Topics:
The Wild (Feral) Horse Hoof and its Natural Balance
Internal Foot Anatomy of Feral and Domestic Horses
How Energy is Dissipated
Natural Balance Shoeing
Author's Summation-
Personal Comments & Thoughts about Practical Application
Author's Independent Experiments:
Investigating the Four Point Trim
Natural Balance Shoeing

Clinical Demonstrations:
Natural Balance Trimming
Application of the Natural Balance Shoe and World Racing Plate

Please Note:

The information presented here is from my lecture notes and recollection of the lectures and demonstrations. I felt that the information was both relevant and important to horse health and therefore warranted sharing. I am not attempting to speak for either Dr. Bowker or Mr. Ovnicek. I do hope, however, to motivate the reader to look up these gentlemen's writings and attend any of their presentations that you can first hand.

In reviewing this document, please recognize that what I present is my interpretation as to what was presented and its emphasis and importance as it relates to my experiences.

The term "wild horse" is used rather than the more scientifically correct "feral horse" inasmuch as the horses studied were part of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program and as such were generally known by the term "wild horses."

Willis Lamm

A few Personal Preliminary Notes:

Having worked with a number of wild horses I have been naturally intrigued with Dr. Bowker's and Mr. Ovnicek's work. They have studied, and in my opinion, have come to some rational conclusions as to why wild horse feet hold up, look relatively good and maintain functionality and balance without any human care. If horses' feet are designed to maintain themselves, why do we have so much trouble with domestic horse's feet? The lecture discussed their findings, experiences and conclusions which could have a profound effect on how we care for our horses' feet and avoid lameness and many types of hoof diseases.

Needless to say, with trims and shoeings coming due this week, we have our hoof knifes sharpened and we intend to try the theories presented on the horses that are due for work at the Kickin' Back Ranch.

If you would rather review the summation first, then backtrack into the specific lecture notes and supporting data, please clickhere.

The Wild (Feral) Horse Hoof and its Natural Balance
Presented by Mr. Ovnicek

Mr. Ovnicek explained how his interest in wild horse feet was sparked by the difficulties in keeping some Montana horses sound while people on adopted wild horses often rode in the same or worse terrain without shoes. From those experiences Mr. Ovnicek made arrangements to observe, measure and study the feet of wild horses which were being brought in for processing and adoption in his region.

Through his observations, Mr. Ovnicek found a number of similarities among the horses.

  1. The horses' feet were generally all in pretty good shape. Aside from encrusted mud and some rough edges, they looked reasonably like horse's feet which were properly maintained.

  2. The horses' feet were consistently in balance.

  3. There seemed to be little evidence of club footedness and that which was found was relatively minor and not significant to the longevity of the horse.

  4. There were definite pressure points, or points of contact with the ground, that were consistent among all the hooves examined.

Shape and Point of Balance

With respect to balance, the wild horse feet were consistent in a number of aspects. The shape of the hoof in relationship to the frog was fairly uniform. The distance between the breakover point (at the toe) and the apex (point) of the frog was consistently the same 1:2 ratio to the distance between the anterior (heel) of the frog to the apex of the frog. The distance from the apex to breakover was 1/3 the total hoof length and the distance from the anterior of the frog to the apex was the remaining 2/3 of total length. Considering the average size of the wild horse's foot, this placed the point of breakover at 1 1/8" to 1 1/4" from the apex of the frog. Comment added: While my notes indicated the apex of the frog as a reference, field measurements suggest Duckett's dot should actually be used as the reference. I am asking for clarification on this point.

This 1:2 (or 1/3:2/3) ratio is significant as hoof length and point of breakover is significant when one considers how weight is borne and distributed by the hoof structure. Point of balance also impacts how the structures inside the hoof respond to impact, pressure, damage and other forces.


1 - Apex of Frog 2 -Duckett's Dot 3 - Tip of coffin bone
4 - Tip of horn growth 5 - Buttress of frog 6 - Coffin bone
7 - Navicular bone 8 - Short pastern 9 - Deep digital flexor tendon
10 - Digital cushion (Includes ungual cartilage) 11 - Coronary band
12 - Extensor process 13 - Heel

For those readers scratching your heads over Duckett's Dot, it is located about 3/8" behind the apex of the frog and should be at the widest part of the foot.

Points of Contact

Ovnicek applied ink to flat pieces of wood and rubbed them across the soles of wild horse feet to determine where the feet were making contact with the ground. What he consistently found was a hoof structure which made ground contact at four distinctive points; both bars and at the corners of the toe. In some feet there were some "white zone" structures which formed up a rim of sorts inside the toe, arching between the anterior (front) points, which also made some incidental contact. These structures were where the toe should be in cases where toes were a little long and were being eliminated.

The hoof wall made No Contact with the ground and was not, in that context, a direct weight bearing structure. The sole and four points made contact and bore the weight, typically along the bars and in "the white zone" (laminae / sole junction).

Thus the sole and corners of the toe were heavily calloused and in direct contact with the ground. In addition, the anterior portion of the frog was also in direct contact with the ground. In 50% of the horses, the frog extended about 1/4" below the heels (made ground contact first).

Exfoliation of Excess Material

The hoof is undergoing a constant process of elimination. Flares occur and excess hoof wall is shed, usually along a ring. Since the wild horse does not bear weight on the hoof wall itself, this elimination does not have the negative connotations which we might attribute to it. It is a necessary component in hoof wall maintenance.

There is a pattern and logical mechanical progression to the breaking of the hoof wall which varies according to the terrain in which the horse lives. For example:

  • On hard ground, such as the rocky terrain in the Pryor Mountains area, the hoof wears reasonably level, maintaining a+/- 55 degree angle.

  • On medium ground, such as sod covered clay, the side hoof walls would flare and break away just forward of the bars leaving heel points which would underrun, or extend downward behind the flare breaks, to as much as 6 degrees, forming natural "heel caulks."

  • On soft sand, these naturally underrun heels would extend up to 11 degrees below the actual plane of the sole.

(Sketches will be drawn and scanned in.)

The soles and sensitive frog underwent constant natural exfoliation of excess material in the areas where contact was not important. With respect to the frog, the apex exfoliated first, then the median portion, however the anterior, or buttress of the frog did not exfoliate but rather was substantially calloused.

Preliminary Conclusions

While it was already generally understood that the horse's hoof was a dynamic structure, it appeared to be more responsive and self-correcting than many people thought.

On horses which traveled between 5 and 35 miles a day, the hoof structures showed consistently similar attributes over a wide number of horses examined.

The hoof wall did not contact the ground and was not a direct component in "earth-hoof" contact, but was rather more of a containment, protection and to a minor extent an energy dissipation structure.

The sole appeared to be the most responsive structure on the bottom of the horse's foot and adapted almost immediately (within a few days) to changes in the environment.

Mud seemed to play an important part in supporting the horse's foot. The lips of the frog appeared to be designed to trap mud and mud packed into the sole appeared to help dissipate the force when the hoof struck the ground.

Thrush appeared to not be a factor even though the horses' feet were constantly caked with mud. This was attributed to the healthier condition of the tissues of the frog due to increased contact and stimulation, which was explained in better detail later in the lecture.

Continue to: Internal Foot Anatomy of Feral and Domestic Horses.

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KBR Horse Health Information, 1998 Lamm's Kickin' Back Ranch and Willis & Sharon Lamm. All rights reserved. Duplication of any of this material for commercial use is prohibited without express written permission. This prohibition is not intended to extend to personal non-commercial use, including sharing with others for safety and learning purposes, provided this copyright notice is attached.
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