Hoof Radiographs

Where are your horse's feet at?

Chronically lame, acutely lame, injured and perfectly healthy horses all look different on radiographs and all go through changes. Which structural changes are normal and which ones affect your horse?

Foot radiographs can show problems in bones, hoof balance, and soft tissues, and they can reveal other injuries such as abscesses and puncture wounds. If a horse's feet are radiographed repeatedly over time, they can also show trends in hoof balance and measurements that might clue you in to problems developing or to the effects of the horse's shoeing.

Following are discussions of the types of information one can glean from radiographs of the feet.Radiographs are especially helpful in looking at bones within the hoof capsule.

A few examples of bone pathology visible on radiographs include:

Fractures--Bone breaks appear as dark lines in an otherwise white or light grey bone, and can be non-displaced fractures (where bone pieces are still next to each other) or displaced fractures (where a piece has moved away from its original position).

Ringbone--This refers to additional bone deposition just outside or at the edge of the pastern joint as a result of chronic inflammation.


It can "ring" partially or completely around the joint, causing pain and lameness, and it is visible as a rough addition to what should be smooth bone surfaces in these locations.

In addition to bone problems one of the most useful things radiographs demonstrate is the position of the distal phalanx (coffin bone) in relation to the hoof wall. This can be useful for evaluating a horse with laminitis, which is inflammation of the laminae of the foot (the soft tissue structures that attach the coffin or pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall).


The inflammation and damage to the laminae causes extreme pain and leads to instability of the coffin bone in the hoof. In more severe cases it can lead to complete separation of the pedal bone within the hoof wall.

Radiographs can also be useful for evaluating hoof balance.

Balancing your horse’s feet has become more of a factor in promoting good performance and long-term soundness. The optimum balance comes as the horse’s weight is distributed equally over his foot.Farriers have always relied on their eyes to estimate angles and foot alignment, but now with the use of digital radiographs (X rays) we can accurately assess the alignment of the bones of the lower limb and foot. Proper communication between the veterinarian and farrier is key to maintaining long-term soundness in your horse.Any horse can benefit from having a veterinarian perform a few survey radiographs of his feet. Typically, the horses that require radiographs are those that have unmatched feet or an abnormality in their feet. Upright feet, club feet, low heels, or feet that toe in are examples of abnormalities that should be radiographed.Radiographs can illustrate any imbalance problems in a horse’s feet for the veterinarian and farrier and can help them clearly define the shoeing needs of the individual horse.Using radiographs, they can work together as a team to improve your horse’s current soundness and high-performance longevity.