The Foundation of Proper Hoof Care
Balanced breakover is quite possibly the most important aspect of the horse’s foot. Without the proper placement of breakover, the horse must work harder to achieve proper movement. To give you an idea, try wearing a pair of shoes that are two or three times to big for your feet. It is much harder to walk, and overtime, you will experience some pain from the way they make you walk. The purpose of this article is to try to explain where breakover should be placed and how to find that point.
Through the efforts of Gene Ovnicek, and the ELPO, Equine Lameness Prevention Organization, balanced breakover is a matter of reading a map. The map is on the bottom of the foot and it shows you a very important aspect to the foot, the placement of the coffin bone. Knowing where the coffin bone is, will show you exactly where your breakover needs to be placed. I can tell you, that the vast majority of the horses I see, benefit greatly just from placing the breakover in the correct position.
The key to finding the correct position for breakover, is to find the widest part of the foot (wpotf). There are three ways to find the widest part of the foot. The quickest way, but not always the most accurate way, is to measure back from the point of the frog one inch. (figure 1A) However if the point of the frog is stretched and pulled forward, you must then use other methods to get a correct placement. The second method is to find the place where the bars terminate into the frog commissures. (figure 1B) If you run a hoof pick up the commissures, you will fell a hump where the bars seem to terminate. A line at this point should give you the widest part of the foot. The third way is to exfoliate the sole from the toe quarters to the heels on each side. Then, using a marker draw a line at the wall/sole junction from the toe quarters to the heel. Mark a line at the peak of the arc you’ve just drawn. Connect the mark from one side to the other. (figure 1C)This line is essentially the widest part of the sole. If by using all three methods you find the lines you have drawn all meet on top of each other, you can be assured you have found the widest part of the foot. From this line, you can measure one inch forward to find the true tip of the frog. From there, you can measure another one inch to find the tip of the coffin bone. These measurements will vary a little depending on the size of the foot you are working on.
From the tip of the coffin bone, you can then draw a line approximately ¼ inch ahead of the line at the tip of the coffin bone to mark where breakover should be placed. This is extremely valuable information as to where to place the breakover point of a shoe or to start the roll of the toe if the horse is barefoot. The heels should then be trimmed to the back of the frog. At this point, you should have a 50/50 ratio from the widest part of the foot to the breakover and the widest part of the foot to the place where the heels are contacting the ground surface. The main point to remember is that we want the same or more distance from the widest part of the foot to the heel than from the widest part of the foot to the point of breakover. (figure below)
Veterinarians and universities are overflowing with severe to moderately lame horses, the majority suffering from problems due to leverage and strain caused by the activities they perform. A large part of the excess leverage is simply due to hoof capsule distortions that have gone unrecognized. Fifty years ago, many horses could get by without many complications from minor distortions and a little extra leverage, because they were not asked to turn circles and do complicated maneuvers. Today, that is not the case. We are asking our horses to perform intricate maneuvers that demand that their feet are in perfect proportions. This article has given you a new insight on how to recognize at least one of these problems.
The ELPO has tested these methods on over 100 horses, and found the measurements to be accurate within 1/8 of an inch. No matter what distortions you have to the foot, the widest part of the foot never changes. It is a constant measure that can be trusted to give you accurate information. How the feet are prepared whether to be shod or to go barefoot, directly influences the way they move. There are many unsound horses out there, and if nothing else changed other than the correct placement of breakover, they would be better off. There are many other aspects of an unsound horse to take into consideration, but let me stress the point, that breakover has to be correct and the starting point of any hoof trimming protocol. I will close with this point. Ask your farrier if they know where the widest part of the foot is, and how do they find it. If they cannot answer the question, you need to find another farrier who can!
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