Radiographs help farriers

Professional athletes meet with specialists and have custom made shoes to ensure they are set from the foundation up to do their best. Why do we give our equine athletes less than this type of treatment? Correct balance and shoe mechanics are imperative to, not only hoof health, but entire limb health. Too many of our top athletes are competing in “discount” tennis shoes.

The first step to getting your horse’s feet back on track is radiographs of their hoof. Typical radiographs taken for farrier work are a lateral and a dorsopalmar (DP) focused on the bottom of the coffin bone. The lateral view provides information on how the boney column aligns, sole depth, point of break-over, rotation, and base of support while the DP view provides information on medial to lateral balance.

If medial lateral, or side to side, imbalance is off then a horse bares an unusually high strain on one side of his entire limb. This can make horses more prone to quarter cracks and collateral ligament injuries. Historically, veterinarians and farriers were focused on palmar angle. This is the angle of the bottom of the coffin bone in relation to the ground. Most textbooks state that this angle should be between two and six degrees. However the most current research shows we should be less concerned with what the palmar angle is, and more concerned with the hoof pastern axis being aligned. The hoof pastern axis is the alignment of the long pastern, short pastern and coffin bone. This allows for differences in conformation much more then deciding a specific palmar angle is ideal. A horse with long sloping pasterns will have a lower ideal palmar angle then a horse with short upright pasterns. The next measurement a veterinarian should take is the base of support. A straight line should be drawn down from in front of the navicular bone to the ground, this line creates your center of coffin joint articulation. The shoe should be centered on this line with 50% in front and 50 percent behind. Centering the shoe here provides adequate support to the back half of the foot and helps bring breakover back. The point of breakover, or when the horse rolls the toe in the stride, is the most difficult point on the navicular apparatus. Bringing this point back helps relief stress on the navicular apparatus. All of these measurements are crucial in creating proper hoof balance. Research has shown that even the most experienced farriers can be misled by the outer hoof capsule. Many horses’ feet become distorted and radiographs are imperative to setting your horse up properly.

The most common problem we see is the long toe, low heal syndrome. This is when a horse has excessively long toes with too much shoe in front of the center of articulation. These horses often also have crushed under-run heals. The shoeing has essentially slid too far forward. Radiographically it is seen as a broken back hoof pastern axis where the coffin bone is much flatter than the pastern. They often also have a low or negative palmar angle with little to no shoe underneath their navicular bone and heal bulbs. This causes increased stress on the navicular bone and its soft tissue structure, deep digital flexor tendon and the coffin joint. Once horses have this condition, radiographic guided trimming and shoeing is often needed for several cycles to correct the hoof.

We recommend once to twice yearly radiographs to performance horses’ feet. This little bit of prevention can help prevent hoof distortion, injury to the structures within the hoof and provide a better foundation for the rest of the limb. Overall, this should save you money, as it’s easier to be ahead of the game than playing catch up. Once radiographs are taken it is crucial to have a knowledgeable farrier to work with your veterinarian. Once a foot has become distorted and imbalanced, it may be necessary to seek advice from a therapeutic farrier. There are farriers who have completed higher training and continuing education to be better equipped to handle difficult cases and are accustom to working with veterinarians. We expect a lot out of our horses, and its important to keep then healthy from the hoof up.


Dr. Kate Workman graduated from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is one of the associate veterinarians and rehabilitation medical director. Hassinger Equine Sports Medicine has a rehabilitation clinic in Aberdeen, North Carolina and two mobile clinics that travel to major equine events across the US. You can email her at or visit

You must be logged in to post a comment Login