A horse'hoof wall, when at peak health, is assembled for maximum durability and elasticity.
The main component of epidermal tissue is a protein called keratin, derived from the Greek keratos, meaning horn. This structural, insoluble protein is found in both horses and humans. Tissue that produces hair, skin, hooves and our nails is a result of the keratinization process. Hoof sulfur is also an important component, as it is closely tied to keratin, due to the fact that sulfur-bearing amino acids (such as methionine, cystine and cysteine) act as a cross-link to bond hoof molecules.
Past and present research agrees on the core components that exist within hooves:
However, depending on the particular study at hand, the concentration values of each tend to vary.
The wall of each hoof is an arrangement of horn tubules and intertubular material that contains keratin. Under magnification (approx. 200X), these tubules resemble telescopic drinking straws that can be compressed under load (and absorb moisture or nutrients as needed). Each tubule is continuous, originating at the coronary band (top of hoof capsule) and extending all the way to the ground.
A cross-section of hoof wall thickness reveals three epidermal layers. The first or deepest layer is the stratum lamellatum; the second makes up the bulk of the hoof wall material called the stratum medium. Third is the most outward layer of hoof wall that we can see. When the hoof is at its healthiest, a shiny coating or varnish is evident. This is often referred to as the stratum tectorium.
The cuticle-type tissue that extends from the hair/horn junction, where the hoof capsule meets the leg, is the periople. Typically referred to as the coronet, the periople changes according to various conditions/climates. Its appearance can be helpful in determining if the hoof wall is lacking or over-exposed to different substances.
Bryan Farcus, MA, CJF ©2007