When evaluating a horse and it’s health, one major tool that we use is x-rays to evaluate the health and position of the bones inside the hoof. While the outside can be a good indicator of what is happening on the inside, x-rays are an absolute indicator of what is happening, and in fact, can then verify suspicions of what was evaluated from the outside.
For the assessment of soundness and ability to do the activities the horse is intended for by the owner, as always the first place to start is the feet for us. The shape of the hoof, sole and frog are amazing indicators of what may be going on inside the hoof and how healthy it may be. We take a good look at the firmness of the frog, the lateral cartilage, the depth of sole and shape and condition of the hoof wall. If the horse is or has been shod, we take a look at what is happening around the nail holes and how the hoof is doing overall with the main weight bearing of horse on the periphery of the foot, rather than the whole of it.
All of these things will add up to something, then we do a walk/trot test with a high frame rate camera to see how the horse is stepping. From there, if there are any suspicions we would recommend getting x-rays. X-rays can be seen as expensive but they are invaluable if you are trying to figure out something that is going wrong that can either be resolved or not based on that knowledge. This goes for any other part of the horse too if there have been injuries that have damaged bone, it’s important to see how the horse has healed up, or not healed up.
Below is an x-ray from thoroughbred mare of about 16 years. She has had shoes on her most of her life and this is about 3 months in from removing them and rehabilitating her to be barefoot for normal turnout. If you don’t have any knowledge of what the internal structure of the hoof should look like, it may not be obvious what is wrong. Scroll down a bit further to see a healthy foot though and it will become obvious quite quickly I think.
The first thing that stands out in this x-ray is that the coffin bone has completely rebuilt itself on the top of it. The whole bottom 1/4 has been eroded away to avoid going through the sole of the foot and reformed on the top in a “ski tip”. This was obvious when looking at the bottom of the foot and the hoof wall growth, but the full extent wasn’t known or appreciated until these x-rays were done. This is called pedalosteitis.
To be blunt, this is a serious situation and this horse has been suffering for years to get to this point. Recovery of the coffin bone will never happen, but we will get her sound on barefoot for daily life. Riding will likely be in boots as her sole will never grow in full and she’ll always have the toe flare. Thin soles are a really big deal and she be treated
This x-ray is one of a very healthy horse with no coffin bone deformation and adequate sole with good hoof wall connection.
So to reiterate, it’s very important to get x-rays when there is suspected damage of the hoof and internal structure. It’s a good baseline for the time then spent on rehabilitation and healing as you can come back in a few months to a year and take another snapshot in time to see how things are. If you have the money for it, it’s good to just get them done once anyways, that way if any issues do come up, you’ll have something to refer to as to where the horse should be.