New Study on Horse Hoof Growth

New research gives a clearer understanding of how equine hooves grow and how abnormal hoof shapes might develop.

Results from this research can explain how the hoof grows and how it is possible for it to develop a dorsal curvature. iStock/quentinjlang

New collaborative work between researchers in equine medicine, maths, physics and stem cell biology has resulted in a clearer understanding of how equine hooves grow and how abnormal hoof shapes may develop.

The lead author, Dr. Cyril Rauch of the University of Nottingham, said: “With new scientific inputs from physics, mathematics and biology, this study provides an entirely new paradigm regarding hard growing tissues such as the horse hoof, which can be applied across cattle, sheep and other species, to unify a set of apparently disparate conditions and clarify the roles of physics and/or biology.”

Nicola Menzies-Gow of The Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom, said: “We believe that this novel approach has the potential to provide alternative directions to follow with respect to understanding chronic hoof pathologies.”

The study published in the prestigious Royal Society Interface Journal and entitled “Physics of animal health: On the mechanobiology of hoof growth and form” was conducted by the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at University of Nottingham in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and the Royal Veterinary College.

Combining mathematics, physics and biology using hooves from horses euthanized for non-research purposes, the study revealed how it is possible for the hoof growth rate to be greater than the potential proliferation rate of epithelial cells. It also explained how the synthesis of the hoof capsule starts from the coronet and that the soft papillae undergo gradual transition through three interpapillary regions into hard keratinized tissue. Mathematics, physics and cell biology were then utilized in the study to explain and describe how the dorsal hoof wall can grow in a curved manner rather than the usual straight manner as a result of faster growth from the coronary band at the quarters compared to the toe region.

Evaluation of the feet from live underweight and obese subjects (assessed using Body Condition Scoring) allowed the influence of body weight on the balances of the stresses affecting hoof growth to be evaluated. The results suggest that being proportionally heavier may promote straighter hoof growth and that being too lean may precipitate poor hoof growth and the development of a hoof with a dorsal curved shape.

The study also showed that a high concentration of insulin stimulated equine progenitor keratinocytes (the outermost layer of cells on the hoof wall) to grow in culture. If this also happens chronically within the live animal, it is possible that it could affect the growth stresses within the hoof and so promote a dorsal curved hoof shape.

“These results taken together can explain how the hoof grows and how it is possible for it to develop a dorsal curvature,” said Nicola. “However, it should be acknowledged that this does not take into account the genetic or metabolic influences on hoof growth nor the role of hoof trimming and shoeing in maintaining a mechanically healthy hoof. It is appreciated that the underlying biology of hoof growth remains an essential factor for hoof pathologies.”

Rauch continued: “Given that the hoof is a weight bearing element it is essential to untangle the biology from the physics in this system; only then can meaningful biological and/or physical causes be prescribed for particular hoof shape. Removing the cause(s) when physically or biologically possible is essential to resolve hoof conditions.”


Authors are: Al-Agele, R; Paul, E; Taylor, S; Watson, C; Sturrock, C; Drakopoulos, M; Atwood, R C; Rutland, C S; Menzies-Gow, N J; Knowles, E; Elliott, J; Harris, P; Rauch, C. (2019) Physics of animal health: On the mechanobiology of hoof growth and form. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. You can access the complete article here:

About The University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world’s top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students—Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia—part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner—locally and globally.

About the Royal Veterinary College

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK’s largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a constituent College of the University of London. The RVC, ranked as the world’s number one veterinary school in the QS World University Rankings 2019, offers undergraduate, postgraduate and CPD programs in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences. In 2017, the RVC received a Gold award from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the highest rating a university can receive. RVC is a research led institution with 79% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2014. The College also provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals; the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital in central London, the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (Europe’s largest small animal referral centre), the Equine Referral Hospital, and the Farm Animal Clinical Centre located at the Hertfordshire campus. 


WALTHAM is a leading scientific authority on the nutrition and health of companion animals. By collaborating with key research institutes and universities around the world its work remains at the forefront of equine nutritional science. This research is part of SPILLERS’ on-going work via the WALTHAM Equine Studies Group, to expand knowledge to improve the health and welfare of horses and ponies throughout the world.

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