In previous articles, we discussed the external and internal structures of the hoof. By understanding the structures of the horse's hoof, we can understand how the hoof grows. The rate and the quality of growth, much like our own fingernails, varies and while we don't depend on our "claws" for survival, horse do depend on their hooves.
Generally, the hoof wall of a normal adult horse grows approximately 0.24 - 0.4 inches per month. At the toe, it takes between nine and 12 months for the hoof horn to grow down from the coronet to the ground surface. At the quarters, six to eight months. At the heels, four to five months. Because the distance from the coronet band to the ground is shorter at the heel than at the toe, the heel horn at the ground surface is always younger than at the toe horn, so it has more elasticity and contains more moisture.
It's important to state at this time, that hoof growth rate is much faster in young horses than in adults. For example, the foot of a nursing foal grows at a rate of about 0.6 inches per month. As the horse matures, the rate slows down.
Other than youth, what can affect the rate in which your horse's hoof grows?
Genetics: Some breeds are well known for the quality of their hoof, Arabians for example, while others are known for poor quality feet, ie Thoroughbreds.
External temperature: Winter cold tends to slow hoof growth and the rate of grow increases in the spring to summer months.
Environmental moisture: Dry conditions retard hoof growth. Hoof growth is much faster in soggy Vancouver, B.C. than in the Arizona desert!
Illness and fever: High body temperatures might retard or deform hoof growth which will be noticed as "fever rings" on the hoof.
Exercise: Metabolic rate will increase when a horse begins training and hoof growth will increase.
Weight bearing: If a horse has a lameness in one leg such that he puts no weight on it, the hoof growth on the opposite leg which then bears the weight, will be slower than normal.
Coronary band injury: When this area is damaged, the hoof wall may also show damage or grow more slowly.
Nutrition: A very important consideration as dietary elements need to be in place for good quality hoof growth. If your horse is deprived of any of these nutrients, the hoof will grow more slowly producing a poor quality hoof ill-equipped to support the horse's weight.