Last week we posted a photo to our Facebook page asking owners if they could identify which shoe goes on which foot (right front, left hind, etc). For some, this was a guessing game; however, if we consider the anatomy and conformation of most horses it is rather easy to tell the shoes apart.
First, let’s look at the form and function of the feet divided into pairs. The front feet take more of the weight, due to the head and neck extending past them. Whereas the hind limbs are responsible for the propulsion of the horse.
While there are variations, generally speaking the front feet will have a fairly round shape whereas the hinds will have more of a spade shape with a pointed toe and well defined quarters.
As we begin to then look at right versus left, we will find that the vast majority of feet are not symmetrical. The majority of horses will bear more weight on the medial (the side of the body towards the midline of the body) wall of the hoof and so that wall becomes straighter than the lateral (the side of the body away from the middle) side when viewed from the front. The medial side will also have less length to its circumference than the lateral side when measured from the center of the toe to the heel. We can see this even when we look at the coffin bone which gives the hoof its shape. Generally the hoof wall will also be thicker on the lateral side than the medial side as well.
Of course not every horse has read the textbook so there are some exceptions to these points, but it is a good starting place. Next time you pick up your horses feet be sure to notice the difference in shape from front to back and left to right. As for telling shoes apart, if you can’t tell left and right from the shape you can notice the mark that farriers put on the lateral side of the shoe.