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The effects of hoof balance on the biomechanics and upper body of the horse “Principals of Equine Orthopaedic Balance” (Darrall Clifford)


This is a discussion of the inter-relationship of the growth of the hoof capsule and the orthopaedic balance of the horse. It can be generally agreed that hoof balance is vital to ensure soundness and a high level of performance. What then constitutes a balanced foot and how to maintain that ideal is more contentious. There are substantial advances being made in this field, particularly the recognition of the inter-relationship between the structure and the function of the hoof capsule, the internal architecture of the foot and the bony column of the leg. This delivery includes a basic overview of such principles from clinical experience and published clinical trials. However, it is my intention to discuss the concept of orthopaedic balance of the entire horse, recognising the inter-relationship between hoof balance and the kinaesthetic function of the horse.

1. Understanding hoof biomechanics

To understand the complex interrelationships of hoof balance and the overall biomechanics requires carefully scrutiny of external hoof pathology as well as an understanding of what is happening to the internal structures of the foot. Recognising and placing emphasis on external macro-pathology maybe somewhat of a ‘missing link’ which is vital to gain a better outcome. Once this is achieved it is then necessary to consider the changes in the upper body of the animal. These can be dynamic reloading patterns resulting in muscle tension patterns, fatigue of the major muscles of the passive stay apparatus, and eventual chronic alteration of ligamentous tension and persisting pain issues. It is worth exploring this inter-relationship by considering misalignment of tissue structures more commonly encountered with problems in the forelimb.

The hoof is constantly under pressure whilst accomplishing its functions as shock absorber, protection of the internal architecture of the hoof and supporting the weight of the horse. The system works extremely well if the forces travel through correct body alignment.  However an imbalance in these forces can and will cause a breakdown or reactionary misalignment in the internal structure of the hoof.  Many of the responses to this pressure can be found in a close examination of the external foot structure. A further consequence is undue loading of the muscular-skeletal system as it attempts to compensate. This is becoming known as “Equine Orthopaedic Balance”® because it refers to the entire musculoskeletal system in motion and at rest and not just the hoof pastern axis alignment.

2. What is Equine Orthopaedic Balance and why is it so important?

All farriers are trained to look at the feet and balance them before placing a shoe on the foot. For centuries this is what has happened. When assessing horses that are showing signs of soreness or lameness the traditionally accepted approach has been to fit shoes to help increase...

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