Something to consider when examining the hooves of your horse, amongst many other things, are ripples and rings and bumps that go horizontally around the hoof. In a healthy hoof, there are none. There should be very smooth walls that are straight and have no deviations of growth from the coronet to the ground. There should be a good angle to handle the load of the horse as they walk, trot and canter. If you can imagine that the hoof wall is made up of a whole bunch of straws, then it would make sense to further imagine that the straws must be straight from one end to the other to have and retain full strength and structural integrity.
The hoof wall is made up tubules that run the length of the hoof from top to bottom. These are the straws. If they are bent, angled with a bend, rippled or have bumps in them on the way to the ground, then they are compromised. These tubules are what make up the structural strength of the hoof wall and the goal should always be to have them straight and without any rings traversing the walls from one side to the other. Here is a healthy hoof to start with:
Straight growth from the top to the bottom.
Unfortunately, rings are commonplace. It’s important to understand why they are there, how they got there and how to get rid of them. The simplest way that a lot of people hide them, is to rasp them down. It makes no difference to the hoof to do that, it’s already broken inside somewhere. In fact, it’s quite likely that removing those ripples and bumps can weaken the hoof, and every much make it more susceptible to internal damage as the hoof wall gets thinner.
Let’s take a look at a hoof that have very obvious rings and ripples to understand how this happened. This hoof should be seen as an extreme example as we would hope to never see such damage done.
Most ripples happen at the top of the hoof and work themselves down as the hoof grows. It takes about a year to grow a whole hoof, so we can then imagine that this hoof is telling us that about 6 months go, it started growing properly. Before that point, there were problems.
To understand the problems that were happening, we would need to know the background of the horse, trimming schedule and style, shod or not and then diet. One of the more common causes of rings and ripples is diet. A sugar rich diet for most horses, especially ones that are more prone to being insulin resistant, will cause the hoof to grow incorrectly as the body responds to all that extra sugar. Founder comes to mind, to which we then get a laminitic phase. The hoof tends to grow fast and grow out during this, the pressure being placed on the hoof at a particular angle then causes the straws/tubules to bend. You now have a ripple that is there for a year.
Another very large cause of ripples and rings is what is referred to as peripheral loading of the hoof wall. What this means is that one of two things has happened. The horse has been shod on only the hoof wall and none of the sole, or the hoof walls have grown too long on too hard of ground. Both of these cause only the hoof wall to be loaded and the wall was never designed to hold the horse up. The foot needs the whole foot to be loaded equally or you will very likely get ripples, and if left unchecked, then you get a disconnection (which is what a ripple is at small scale) of the hoof wall from the coffin bone.
The pressure on the tubule from the ground to the coronet is the cause of the ripple. The reason that happens is varied, but it should be consider as trauma to the hoof.
In some cases, this happens from physical trauma. Jumping, extended trotting/cantering on hard ground, smashing into rocks or other hard elements can very much cause this. There is a common term of founder called “road founder”, which is essentially physical trauma to the hoof. These are all good candidates to consider if you see ripples and rings in the hoof of your horse.
If you do see this, it’s already way too late to do anything about. It happened a while back. If it’s an inch or so below the coronet, you could imagine it happened a month ago. The goal is to never have it happen so keeping track of diet, riding activities and locations and any stresses the horse may have becomes mandatory for the health of your horse.
Now that there is understanding of what these are, the question might be as to what to do about it. First, there is nothing to be done about the ripples that are already in place, they will grow out but it’s imperative to trim accordingly as you don’t want the ripple to be the further growth of the hoof wall. As you can see in the image above, the ripples have mostly stopped and the good straight growth is coming in a much steeper angle than the toe, where most of the ripples are. If left unchecked, as this horse had been up until recently, the horse will go into a laminitic phase and not come out, the new growth will stay on track with the shallower angle and this continues the unhealthy poor connection to the coffin bone. Essentially making a long ripple that becomes undetectable to a lot of people who think the shallower angle is normal. Be very careful here as it’s not.
So, to reiterate, try to understand where the ripples came in. Was it diet or trauma? Was the trauma physical or mental (being stalled too long, stressed out) and can you rid your environment of that? If not, expect more ripples along the way. The more ripples there are, the weaker the hoof and the easier to get laminitis and further down the road we get hoof wall rotation and then thin soles and so on. It’s very important to address the metaphorical “canary in the mine” as a ripple can and usually indicates a serious health issue. Trim accordingly to get rid of the ripple by essentially unloading the hoof wall and let it grow out. Once you see good growth coming in from the top, you know you’re on track. The growth should be steeper above the ring than below it, in such a case it will likely be that the growth is coming in well connected and strong.
All in all, of course if you’re unsure, grab your farrier or vet or both to take a look. Watch the patterns of your horse and if you have the opportunity then check out other horses too. Some will never show rings as they are healthy and some will never show them because they have chronic laminitis that has already separated the hoof wall from the top to the bottom. The ones that are in between will have the rings. Be aware and cognitive and you’ll be on your way to keeping your horse healthier and happier.