Skeletal forelimb measurements and hoof spread in relation to asymmetry in the bilateral forelimb of horses

Wilson, G.H.; McDonald, K.; O'Connell, M.J.
Equine Veterinary Journal
March 2009

Reasons for performing study: Research has highlighted a high frequency of skeletal asymmetries in horses. In addition, research into hoof asymmetries has shown that within a bilateral pair, the hoof with the smaller angle is often subjected to greater loading. There has been limited attention paid to understanding compensatory mechanisms for skeletal asymmetries in the horse; the dynamic structure of the hoof could potentially be acting in a compensatory capacity.

Objectives: To investigate the relationship between morphometry of forelimb segments and hoof spread and their incidence of asymmetry.

Methods: Ten bilateral measurements of the hoof and forelimb were taken from 34 leisure horses. The relationship between hoof spread and forelimb segment measurements were analysed using a generalised linear model (GLM).

Results: In relation to left hoof spread, the GLM identified significant negative relationships with left side measurements (third metacarpal length, elbow height), and significant positive relationships with right side measurements (fetlock height, third metacarpal length, elbow height). In relation to right hoof spread, the GLM identified significant negative relationship with left elbow height, and significant positive relationships with right side measurements (fetlock height, point of shoulder). The difference between the number of horses larger to the left or to the right was found to be significant for point of shoulder height (χ2 = 4.8, P<0.05), and highly significant for heel height (χ2 = 9.53, P<0.01) and the third metacarpal length (χ2 = 7.26, P<0.01).

Conclusions and clinical relevance: The study demonstrated considerable asymmetry in left-right morphometry of the equine limb. The fact that measurements of hoof spread were significantly associated with limb segment measurements could possibly indicate that an interaction exists. Any asymmetry in hoof spread measurements may suggest unequal loading of the limbs, which in turn may contribute to injuries and reduced performance.

Large animal: