Evaluation of horse hooves with thermal images (English version)

By Danielle Dibbens with Joanne Glover (Barefoot trimmer)

The influence of the hoof on the biomechanics and posture of the horse and vice versa is a passionate subject.
Through my volunteer work with The Laminitis Site, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about and work with horses diagnosed with laminitis.  My experiences have allowed me to study the pathological hoof and the compromised body and muscles that inevitably come with it.

The ability of the horse’s hoof to correctly function and grow is tightly linked to the health and biomechanics of their body: the healing of the pathological hoof cannot be considered without addressing the body as well.

Often, during rehabilitation of chronic laminitis it can be difficult to see which issue is causing the horse the most difficulty. For example, with excessively high heels: -
When you lower them to try to correct rotation they can grow back quickly to the original height.   Is this because the muscles and tendons have adapted and compensated for so long the horse’s asymmetry needs the high heels?  So is it the feet or the body that needs addressing as a priority?
For this reason teamwork is essential for a successful rehabilitation: ideally the corrective trimming will be accompanied by bodywork.
You can imagine how much fun I’ve had with a camera that takes thermal images and having the opportunity to see lots of different horses.  The thermal camera gives you an idea of what is going on with the muscles and tendons and can indicate when more in depth examinations are indicated such as x-rays.

I wanted to share with you in this article the results of my research.  Particularly interesting for me was with the chronic laminitis cases, the thermal images helped us to visualise laminar wedges. This helps to guide the trimmer so as to have a toe short enough to help to grow a well connected hoof wall.  The thermal images also gave a good indication of sole thickness and therefore if the horse might benefit from the use of hoof boots and pads. Often the collateral grooves will give an indication of the sole thickness but a confirmation with the thermal image can give a clearer image to the trimmer or owner.

This method could be useful not only for the pathological hoof and rehab cases but for horses in general.  The possibility to verify how well the trim is adapted to a particular horse, depending how the horse wears his hoof, may have important benefits.  Details that you can see on the thermal images can be:- length of toe, if the heels are balanced, if the sole is thin or very thick, the degree of flare.  These details are useful as much for the hoof care professional, as the breeder or the owner – especially if they are an owner-trimmer.  The horse’s trainer might also find it useful to know how the horse uses his body and hooves.
It is important to have good preparation to get good quality thermal images.  The horse should be inside - away from direct sunlight and drafts - for 1-2 hours before the imaging session.  Feet must be picked out and brushed at least 30 minutes before the imaging session.  They should be dry and clean, so better to give them a good brush than a last minute shower.  If the horse has very hairy feet you can use socks to keep the hair out of the way of the hoof.


Horses have an ability to reduce the circulation in their limbs; this is a normal part of thermoregulation.  If a horse is thermo-regulating during the thermal imaging session the images of the feet and limbs will not be usable.  So in this situation the horse will need to be walked to get the circulation going again before taking the images.  However, it is interesting to note with which legs the horse is thermo-regulating, for example it may be the hind legs more than the forelimbs.  I would add a note that both shod and barefoot horses thermo-regulate their limbs.  I have most often seen this reduction of circulation in low ambient temperatures, but also in horses that are not moving much such as stabled horses or those resting. (*edited to add: So perhaps this should be considered a state of vasoconstriction rather than thermoregulation?)


These thermal images allow us a clearer and more complete view of the hoof which can facilitate improved care and management and better customised care of each hoof. However, we mustn’t forget that when a hoof is trimmed, the material trimmed was formed months ago. A healthy foot is grown by a healthy body and spirit, the trimming of the foot is only one element among many that is necessary, bodywork, the quality of their movement, their lifestyle and environment, and perhaps most importantly their nutrition.

Here are some examples:

Please note to help you follow the examples that the images are all arranged in the same order :-
Left Front, Left Hind, Right Front, Right Hind

This barefoot horse shows some imbalances:-
LF / first row – more sole on the medial side
LH / second row – medial heel lower than lateral heel
RF / third row – more sole than LF, I question what is going on at the lateral toe area, image to be retaken on the next visit with a medial view for more information.
RH / fourth row – long in the toe

This pony was recuperated by a rescue organisation with aladdin slippers, the images were taken before a vet visit to take the second lot of x-rays, and rotation of P3 was diagnosed in all four feet by the vet using the x-rays.

This pony was diagnosed using x-rays by the vet with rotation and ski tips on both front feet, more severe on the RF – third row.

This horse has been barefoot on the hind feet for 5 years, and on the front feet for several months, the feet show an imbalance on the front feet with the medial wall very thin. LF – first row shows an abnormality at the toe on the medial side.  The soles are thinner on the front feet than the hinds. The frogs are more contracted on the front feet than the hinds.  None of the frogs in contact with the ground (at least on this rubber surface). Flaring on all four feet – easier to see on the lateral images.  This horse is sensitive on a gravel surface.

This shod horse shows flaring and thin soles, especially on the front feet.

This horse has a severe suspensory ligament problem and couldn’t be trimmed for several months.  You can see very long toes and an accumulation of sole on the front feet. The RH wasn’t clean enough for a trustworthy image; you can see the fresh pickings on the floor.  

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