Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock.
Question: There’s an old adage that white hooves are weaker than dark hoof material. Is there any truth to this?
Dr. Scott Fleming, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital: The topic of hoof color and its corresponding hoof quality has been a common conversation topic amongst my clientele for 20 years of shoeing horses. Prior to being a farrier, I had often heard this theory around horsemen while growing up.
As farriers, we treat horses as having four individual feet that are shod to their particular hoof conformation, the limb conformation above them that influences their shape and limb gait, and the horse’s discipline that may have varying requirements. With so many factors involved, it is common to have a pair of hooves that don’t seem to match in health, shape, or quality. It has also been said that solid hooves, be them white or black are better than mixed colored hooves where you have a stripe of black in a predominantly white hoof or vice versa. Ultimately, however, the pigmentation of that hoof has no known or proven influence on quality or toughness vs another hoof of a different color on the same horse.
There have been many studies over the last 50 years looking into the relationship between color and quality. Many factors and approaches have been looked at, including but certainly not limited to, measuring hoof wall elasticity under varying loads, horseshoe nail retention forces that are indicative of horse shoe retention across hoof colors, and abrasion resistance, etc.
Of the many prominent researchers in the field of hoof study, the late Dr. Doug Leach, was an early and significant influence on what we know about the hoof today. His works in the 1980s were a wealth of knowledge in hoof research and were the foundation for more specific studies going forward by other researchers. In his PhD thesis, Dr. Leach found no relationship between hoof color and rigidity as measured by vertical, lateral, and interior to exterior forces applied to the hoof.
Of the striped vs. solid color hoof question, Dr. Leach remarked that if there was a difference in structural integrity between the dark and light pigmentation, we would see a break down or some deviation at that junction from the two areas responding differently to the high forces applied to the hoof wall under load. In the same line as Dr. Leach’s previous work, another study looked at elasticity as not only compression but stretching and again found no correlation to color.
Lastly, the relationship between how much force was exerted to pull horseshoe nails from the wall of different colored hooves was performed. It was found that no significant difference was established between dark and light hooves, and in theory, there should be no difference in shoe retention among different colored hooves on the same horse due to color alone.
As mentioned earlier, we often see horses that seem to have a hoof that isn’t as good as the opposite regarding shoe retention, overall health, or hoof shape. These hooves are often different colors, but the many internal and external factors affecting these traits play a bigger role than their color.
Scott Fleming, originally from Northeast Texas, grew up riding Western performance Quarter Horses and working with cattle. Upon graduating from high school, Fleming attended farrier school and maintained a quarter horse centric farrier business in Northeast and central Texas until moving to Lexington. He also served in the Marine Corps Infantry for four years.
Fleming graduated from veterinary school at Texas A&M University in 2013. He then completed an internship at Rood & Riddle in 2013-2014, continued at the hospital as a fellow, and is currently a shareholder at Rood & Riddle.
Outside of Rood & Riddle, Fleming enjoys spending time on the farm with his wife, Tina and their two children, Callie and Case. A special interest for Dr. Fleming is participating in Equitarian Initiative trips to Central America to help working equids in the region.