The Sound Hoof: Horse Health from the Ground Up

By Lisa Simons Lancaster


Tallgrass Publishers is pleased to announce their newest book, The Sound Hoof. This new book demystifies what every horse guardian, trainer, and equine healthcare provider wants to know about current trimming and shoeing practices, plus introduces the emerging field of holistic hoof care.

The owner/guardian of the horse is ultimately responsible for providing the best for these incredible animals to maintain a lifetime of soundness and balance. The intention of The Sound Hoof is to provide people with enough knowledge and understanding of hoof care so that they can make educated decisions for their animals. To introduce readers to this landmark book on hoof care, we have selected an excerpt from Chapter Three, which discusses issues surrounding health and soundness.


Evaluating Soundness

What is soundness and how is it evaluated? The simplest answer is that soundness is the absence of limping. Veterinarians evaluate evidence of pain by watching a horse move, conducting joint mobilization and flexion tests, palpating the leg and hoof or using hoof testers to detect pain. This clinical assessment has obvious value. But there are limits to these conventional evaluation techniques.

In some cases a horse does not appear lame in an exam, but is routinely lame within a few miles every time he is ridden. If a horse passes a veterinary soundness test one day, and is lame the next, does this mean he was or was not sound when the vet saw him? There is no answer to this question, yet asking it can broaden our view of soundness. By the time we see a symptom, the cause is likely to have been silently at work for a long time.

A horse that looks sound today is not necessarily free of pathology. Health is more than the absence of textbook medical conditions. Health is not as well understood as disease due to our way of defining disease as the presence of specific pathogens that have been scientifically identified. Health is the condition of the natural biological functioning of an organism. Health allows the animal to effectively cope with all stress including cuts, scrapes, bruises, broken bones, and infectious illness.

Eddie, a healthy, handsome horse who happens to be happy being barefoot


A sound horse will be able to meet the demands of physical and mental stress. Soundness then, is an aspect of health, and is more than the absence of limping. Since we cannot objectively measure something that we can't see, it is difficult to determine if our apparently sound horse is actually healthy. This leads us to wonder: can we find out if there is underlying damage being done? The next thought may be: can we make our sound horse 'more sound?'

The indicators of hoof health discussed in this chapter provide us with tools that help us evaluate horse hoof health. Health can deteriorate when biological structure and function are out of alignment. Structure, that is, how the body parts are held together, is linked to function. Function refers to what the specific cells, tissues, and organs do to maintain the animal.

If the hoof's ideal structure becomes altered in any way, its function will also be altered. The cause of hoof change can be nutritional, environmental, or mechanical. Any changes to the balance and alignment of hoof component will affect the physiological function. And, in turn, changes in hoof structure and function will affect changes in structure and function of other parts of the equine body.

How well any particular horse copes with a life full of challenges and stress is dependent on numerous environmental and genetic factors. If we are not aware of the developmental history of a particular lameness, we will have trouble seeing it as an indicator of deeper misalignments of structure and function.

Difficulty in identifying, preventing, and curing common equine soundness issues is compounded by controversy regarding how a healthy foot is supposed to look. We need to know the components, the contexts, and the parameters of horse health in order to promote and maintain hoof health. It is your responsibility to search constantly and learn about your own horses and the wider world of equine research in order to build your own picture of what you need to do to encourage health in these animals. It is unlikely that you will find a single study that will tell you how a hoof should look, or what you should feed horses to maintain healthy hooves. As in all research, there are competing theories, contradictory explanations for a single phenomenon, varying opinions on what constitutes normal, and a multitude of ideas about what we should be doing to reach the goal of soundness.

When considering the advice of experts, do not lose sight of your own knowledge of your horse. Your power of observation and intuition is valuable. If you ask a farrier why a shoe or foot looks a certain way, and the answer is 'that's how its always done,' or 'this is what they teach in school' or, 'you take care of the riding, I'll take care of the feet…' or any number of other evasive responses, it is up to you to seek answers from other sources. Horse guardians are rarely given enough credit for their own hunches. We have all been taught to defer to experts. If you look more closely at the source, you find that much of 'expert opinion' is based on custom and habit rather than careful study of horse health.

By gaining an understanding of the concepts laid out in this and the following chapters, you are preparing yourself to be the expert manager of your own horse's health.

Lisa Simons Lancaster, author of 'The Sound Hoof: Horse Health From the Ground Up', is a farrier and is finishing her DVM degree at the University of Michigan.


Chapter Three of The Sound Hoof: Horse Health From the Ground Up, continues with offering an extensive and detailed 11 point checklist for hoof health evaluation. The author, Lisa Simons Lancaster, is sure to support all of the issues she presents with the most recent research being performed regarding the structure, function and nature of the hoof. Subsequent chapters delve into topics such as: 'To Shoe or Not to Shoe;' 'Sound Horsemanship;' as well as other concerns - hoof diseases, feeding, and general equine wellness from the ground up.

The Sound Hoof will be available in late summer. The cost of the book is $29.95 and Tallgrass Publishers is offering a Pre-Press Sale price of $25.95. To purchase a book contact:, or