It is commonly believed that we have bred domestic horses to have poor or small feet. A common example is the halter-bred Quarter Horse whose feet are small and upright due to breeding for this desirable characteristic. While individual breeds do have certain common characteristics to their feet, we have not been breeding horses long enough to have altered their genetic characteristics.  Furthermore this assumes that the pool starts with some examples of genetically small-hooved individuals.  Their poor hoof quality or shape is largely a result of their environment and lifestyles while they are growing up.

For example, Arabs and QH’s do tend to have harder feet than, say, TB’s or Friesians. It is the hard-footedness of QH’s that causes them to develop small, upright feet with upright high heels if they are not brought up on breed appropriate footing. The harder the hoof wall the harder the ground it needs to grow up on in order to expand the hoof with pressure and movement. As the hoof expands when it hits the ground, the growing coffin bone has room to expand. In contrast with this requirement many of the above described QH’s are brought up on soft footing in stalls, and due to lack of expansion of the foot, it grows small and upright, and contracted. And that is interpreted to be a genetic condition.

To state it another way the QH relies on hard footing and resistance for hoof expansion probably because this is the type of footing the early members of this breed developed on. Whereas a Friesian for instance that originally lived on soft marshy footing has developed a wide shallow foot (with the soft horn tubules that permit it to take this shape) that allows the frog to touch the ground and be used for hoof expansion. The frog can provide hoof mechanism with much less resistance. There are cases of Friesians kept in the conditions of the Northeast, shod and stalled, that have developed narrower, more upright feet – in their own lifetieme. Their feet have adapted to their living conditions. I have some young TB’s in my care whose foot development I am closely monitoring. They have a tendency to underrun heels just as TB’s are “known” to have, but with correct lifestyle and frequent correct trimming they are developing incredibly healthy, correct feet with the widest coffin bones on a young horse I have ever seen.

This Post shows the development of one such young TB; look for more to be posted in the future.

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