What’s inside horse hooves?

Discover the structure of a horse’s feet and why fitting horseshoes doesn’t cause pain

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Horse hooves are the thick horny coverings that protect the end of the horse’s leg and also provide shock absorbency. Horse hooves are made of a tough protein called keratin – the same stuff our nails and hair are made of. The keratin in a horse’s hoof is layered in horizontal sheets, in order to add strength and minimise the extent of any damage that could split the hoof irreparably in the event of a crack.

Horses are digitigrade – ie they walk on their tiptoes – and therefore require a spongy pad beneath the heel on which to walk. While the outer wall of the hoof is insensitive – much like human hair and fingernails – the inner parts can feel pain. Therefore, when a farrier fits a horseshoe to the hoof, they do so by hammering the nails into only the outer wall of the hoof. Horseshoes, which are often made of steel these days, offer added shock absorbency as well as traction on the ground. These curved metal bands come with between six and eight square nail holes through which the metal pins can be slotted. One by one, the nails are hammered into the hard, nerve-free outer wall of the hoof, securely fastening the shoe to the creature’s hoof.

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