No Frog, No Horse

Hoof prints with frog showing

My first memory of the phrase “no hoof, no horse” is from reading the book Black Horses for the King about ten years ago.  This young adult novel is set in King Arthur’s time, and being a fan of King Arthur tales in general, I couldn’t resist the equine-oriented take on the legend.  While I don’t now remember the story line other than that ponies were relied upon but horses were revered, I do remember encountering ‘no hoof, no horse.’  Now I’m surprised if I don’t encounter the phrase at least a couple of times a year.

This week, I have learned the slight modification “no foot, no horse”, while having less alliteration, is probably more accurate.  That is if you consider the ‘hoof’ to be the external hard portion of a horse’s foot.  Two videos that came across my desk in the same day emphasized the importance of the frog to the health of the foot.

My Fell Ponies have taught me just how hard the hoof wall can be.  Trimming them in dry weather takes all the strength I can muster.  It’s therefore easy to understand how one might come to believe that the hoof wall is the weight-bearing portion of the foot.  Yet these two videos, one from the Swedish Hoof School (1) and the other from the University of Queensland in Australia (2), convincingly showed how the foot absorbs the pressure from above by changing shape, including how the hoof wall actually flexes despite its apparent hardness and how the frog comes into play.

Having done most of my own trimming and always keeping my ponies barefoot has left me relatively unaware of conventional hoof-care practices.  Apparently it is common to trim the frog aggressively when shoeing a horse.  However, according to the Swedish Hoof School video, the frog is actually meant to be weight-bearing.  The consequences when it is not allowed to be are dramatically demonstrated, with the laminae breaking away from the hoof wall.  I could easily see how this would be painful for a horse.

The University of Queensland video focused primarily on blood flow to the foot.  Under moderate to extreme pastern flexion (think gallop), blood flow to the hoof through the primary route is cut off, but pressure put on the frog when it contacts the ground causes a secondary route to be utilized.  The frog again plays crucially into the health of the foot, but it must be allowed to come into contact with the ground for it to contribute.

When a coincidence like these two videos coming across my desk in the same day happens, I try to take notice.  I took out Well Shod by Don Baskins, the book that was recommended to me when I began trimming my ponies myself, because the Swedish Hoof School video was so adamantly against conventional hoof care practices.  The criticisms made more sense when I read in Well Shod, “With the horse to be shod, we need to pare away the old sole and frog with a hoof knife.  We do this because a horse with shoes cannot adequately shed his sole and frog – the shoes restrict this natural occurrence.” (3)  Baskins recommends keeping the frog 3/8” below the plane of the sole before the shoe is put on.  Hence the frog doesn’t have a chance to contact the ground at all.  Well Shod does say, “There is no need to cut off more than just a superficial amount of sole and frog, if that, on unshod horses because the sole and frog have been shedding away about every 30 days, as nature intended.”

Both people who pointed these videos out to me emphasized how as equine owners we owe it to our hooved friends to understand their feet.  These videos definitely improved my understanding and gave me a new appreciation for the equine foot.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012

3) Baskins, Don.  Well Shod:  A Horseshoeing Guide for Owners & Farriers. Western Horsemen, Inc. Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1997, p. 52-3.


About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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