The horse's foot is a complex and amazing apparatus. It not only holds a great amount of weight but also is able to withstand high impact from that weight. The hoof of a mature horse grows approximately a third of an inch a month. Routine trimming and proper shoeing by a good farrier is critical to the horse's soundness. That old saying “no foot, no horse” is all too true. A horse with sore feet cannot perform its job and is in constant misery. Some horses have to be put down because they develop painful foot problems, such as severe laminitis, that cannot be resolved.
FIGURE 9.6: The Foot of the Horse
Five factors make it possible for the hoof to absorb shock:
The digital cushion found deep within the foot
The hoof wall, which is the key structural support designed to take impact and spread it to the other shock-absorbing areas
The sole, which is (or should be) concave and, therefore, doesn't impact the ground
The frog, a wedge of horn that is triangular in shape and presses into the digital cushion
The bulbs of the heel, which form the back of the frog and the bars alongside the frog
If your horse loses a shoe, keep a rubber protective boot on hand to slip over the horse's foot. You can save your horse discomfort and yourself lost riding time by protecting that bare hoof and calling your farrier immediately. These boots are also handy when administering ointment to the hoof or for treating an abscess in the foot.