Natural Balance Hoof Care

What is Natural Balance Hoof Care?

The Principles of Natural Balance Hoof Care are an accumulation of common sense ideas about hoof care that have been supported anecdotally and by scientific scrutiny. The study and observation of self-maintaining equine feet in both wildand domestic environments are the basis from which scientific researchhas been directed.

 Our traditional theories on hoof care and lamenesstreatment are constantly being challenged in an effort to further ourknowledge, improve our ability maintain normal feet, treat lameness andmost importantly prevent lameness. Natural Balance is not so much asingle technique of trimming and shoeing, but a combination of simpleguidelines that addresses the basic needs of the equine digit (wild,domestic, shod or barefoot). This has been determined from scientificresearch, common sense biomechanics and practical experience.
Goals of Natural Balance Hoof Care:
1. When shoeing, to place and balance the shoe on the foot relative to the distal phalanx within the hoof capsule.
2. Effectively use the frog, sole, bars and hoof wall for support.
3. Protect and support the internal structures of the foot.
4. Maximise the horse’s length of stride and agility.
5. Eliminate stumbling, forging and interfering.
6. Minimise strain on the knees, shins and suspensory apparatus.
7. Eliminate lameness associated with hoof distortions and deformities.
8. Improve overall soundness.
How can Natural Balance Hoof Care Increase the Horses Length of Stride?
Length of stride reaches its maximum when the point of breakover is atits optimal position relative to the distal phalanx within the hoofcapsule. At the same time, the heels must be prepared to allow thecaudal part of the frog to make initial contact with the ground througha heel first landing.
Natural Balance Hoof Care guidelines show how to achieve optimalbreakover and heel preparation through the use of static referencessuch as the widest part of the foot, the sole callous and the live,functional sole Use of these structures during hoof preparation makesit easier to achieve medial/lateral and cranial/caudal balance withrespect to the distal phalanx and the horses conformation.
Breakover occurring close to the distal phalanx and a heel firstlanding help to make use of the shoulder, knee and fetlock moreefficient during the stride thus maximising the length of stride. Thefollowing series of events explains how this works in comparison to ahorse with longer toes and heels.
a. The events during stride with longer toes.
With a longer toe, the point of breakover relative to the distalphalanx has been found to be greater than is considered optimal.
1. With a longer breakover, the body moves over the limb further thannormal before the foot is forced off the ground by the increasedtension of the deep digital flexor tendon, below the inferior checkligament.
2. Because the toe is in the way and the leg is further behind theequine than normal, the equine needs to lift its shoulder in an upwardsdirection in order to get its foot off the ground. The lifting of theshoulder causes a shift in weight and alters the horse’s balance. Thisaction places additional strain on the muscles in that area.
3. The delay in the stride caused by long breakover in addition to theloss of balance causes a hastened forward movement, hence a quickerreturn to the ground. This usually means that the toe hits the groundfirst rather than the heel. This leaves little time for the knee andfetlock to play much of a part in the stride.
b. The events during stride with correctly placed breakover.
With Natural Balance guidelines, the optimal place of breakover isfound to be approximately 0.6cm ahead of the distal border of thedistal phalanx. The corresponding distance is 0.3cm in the hind feet.This measurement applies to an average sized foot in a 500kg horse orcan be more accurately determined by the use of x rays. (fig1)
As the body moves over the limb during the stance phase of the stride,it reaches the optimal point where the deep digital flexor tendon belowthe inferior check ligament causes the foot to lift off the ground.When breakover is correctly positioned the shoulder does not liftupwards. Instead, the shoulder rolls forward. As the knee reaches itsnormal height the lower leg extends forwards, reaching out to itsmaximum extension.
As the foot approaches the ground, the toe is raised upwards and theheel is offered to the ground first. The heel first landing activatesthe sensory receptors in the caudal part of the frog, which contributesto the alignment of the digital phalanges and the coordination of thehorse.
Why is a slight heel first landing with initial frog contact important?
A heel first landing with initial frog contact activates the digitalcushion and lateral cartilage, which are partially responsible foraligning the pastern on landing and the loading part of the stancephase of the stride.
There is a mass of sensory receptors in the caudal part of the frogthat send messages to other parts of the body that assist incoordination.
The ground contact on the frog encourages optimum blood flow thus increases circulation.
How do Natural Balance trimming and Natural Balance shoes protect and support the distal Phalanx?
A key issue in Natural Balance is the preservation of the sole callousfound around the sole area behind the white line in the toe region ofthe equine foot. The sole callous is epidermal tissue that contours thedistal border of the distal phalanx. In bare feet, when the solecallous is left intact, it modifies itself quickly to the changingenvironment to protect the fragile distal border of the distal phalanx,as well as the circumflex artery, vein and nerve beneath it (figs 2 -4).
The sole callous is a key to finding breakover. It is used as areference for placing the Natural Balance shoes in the correct positionwith respect to the distal phalanx. The reverse curve of the inner toeportion of the Natural Balance shoe extends caudal to the distal borderof the distal phalanx, offering protection to the distal border of thedistal phalanx above it.
How are the frog, sole, bars and the hoof wall incorporated in Natural Balance Hoof Care?
When trimming horses that are to be left bare foot, the wall in the toeregion shares the weight with the functional sole and the sole callous.The heels are prepared with respect to the live sole so they end nearthe back part of the frog (the frog buttress). This allows the frog andbars to be at the same level or slightly lower than the heels so thatthey are incorporated in the support and weight bearing of the horse.All parts are equally important and must be allowed to play theirrespective part in weight distribution.
When using Natural Balance shoes, the foot is prepared so that the shoecan be placed on the foot allowing the wall and certain sole structuresto share the weight when the foot is loaded. The special toe design ofthe Natural Balance shoe allows for easy placement of the shoe to allowa point of breakover relative to the distal phalanx. The upright innerbranch of the heels of the shoes, allow soil to firmly pack into thecaudal parts of the foot, which aids in support of the distalinterphalangeal joint through the frog, caudal sole and bars.
How does Natural Balance address lameness issues associated with hoof deformity?
Hoof capsule deformity is a loss of the parallel relationship betweenthe hoof capsule and the distal phalanx within. Natural Balance hoofcare offers an easy to follow protocol to spot the early signs ofdeformity before they become problematic.
Find the widest part of the foot. It crosses the foot approximately ¾"(19mm) behind the tip of the frog and where the bars terminate throughthe sole.
Establish where the most cranial and caudal lines of ground contactare. The most cranial area of ground contact is usually at the point ofbreakover. The most caudal area of ground contact is usually at theback of the heels (frog buttress).
If there is more ground surface from the widest part of the footforwards to the point of breakover, than there is to the last weightbearing points at the heels. This would indicate the hoof capsule isloosing its relationship to the distal phalanx.
The optimal ground mass distribution is found to be 1/3rd of the groundmass ahead of the widest part of the foot (to the point of breakover)and 2/3rd of the total ground mass behind the widest part of the foot.(Is usually the frog buttress if the heels are prepared close to thefunctional sole and the frog is healthy)
Once a hoof deformity is recognised, by using the static referencepoints offered through Natural Balance guidelines. It is easy toprepare and balance the foot relative to the distal phalanx, thuseliminating hoof capsule deformity and lessening the chances oflameness.
As you can imagine, the horses’ foot is proving to be a complexmechanism that has a fairly simple task to perform, to support thehorse in movement and at rest. We have worked hard at keeping an openmind to new technology and tried to incorporate some of the latestscientific research and utilise practical application experiences.Natural Balance is and will continue to be an evolving approach to hoofcare.
As with any farriery technique, results may vary due to the variance inthe technical ability and understanding of the farrier applying thetechnique.




The Farriery Practice would like to thank everyone who attended our clients evening held in March. The evening was based on lower limb anatomy of the horse. It was a great success, filling the forge at Bridge House Equestrian Centre.

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Founded in 1990 by Mark Spriggs, Dave Nicholls and Mike Williams The Farriery Practice has grown into a successful Partnership of six Farriers who all strive to provide the best in service and knowledge.

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