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The equine hoof wall is a hard keratinous structure which transmits forces generated when the hoof contacts the ground to the skeleton of the horse. During locomotion the hoof capsule is known to deform resulting in an inward curvature of the dorsal wall and expansion of the heels. However, whilst researchers have studied the tensile and compressive properties, there is a lack of data on the flexural properties of the hoof wall in different locations around the hoof capsule.





Hoof wall deformation during load-bearing




In this study the flexural properties and hydration status of the hoof wall was investigated in two orthogonal directions, in different locations around the hoof capsule. The hoof was divided into three regions: the dorsal-most aspect (toe); the medial and lateral regions (quarters) and the heels caudally. Beams were cut both perpendicular (transverse) and parallel (longitudinal) to the orientation of the tubules. Differences in the mechanical properties were then investigated using three - point bending tests.

Distal surface (solar view) of the hoof capsule, indicating hoof regions

The hoof wall to show orientation of the beams relative to the tubules (- - -)

Three-point bending test



There were considerable differences in the flexural properties around the hoof capsule; transverse beams from the heel were 45 % more compliant than those from the toe region. This corresponded with changes in the hydration of the hoof wall; beams from the heel region were more hydrated (28.2 0.60 %) than those from the toe (24.2 0.44 %) (P < 0.01). Regional variation in the water content is thought to help explain differences in the flexural properties.

The mechanical properties of the hoof wall, in two orthogonal directions, in different locations around the hoof capsule: the toe (T), quarters (Q) and heel (H) region. There were significant differences in the bending modulus of the wall material around the hoof capsule; beams taken from heels were significantly more compliant than those cut from the toe and quarter regions (P < 0.01). The results were analysed using ANOVA, n = 5.  Vertical bars indicate SE.



Whatever the causal mechanisms for the regional differences found in this study, the results support the concept that the material properties are linked to known patterns of deformation in the hoof wall. The presence of an increasing gradient of stiffness circumferentially from the heels to the toe region may perform a damping function, smoothing the transfer of energy between areas of high and low deformation (strain). As the foot usually comes to the ground, heel first, the significant and rapid expansion of the heels would be resisted by the progressively stiffer material of the quarter and toe regions (Goodman and Haggis, 2008).


   Author: Adrian Goodman
   Tel: +44 (0)1522 886802