Do your horse's frogs look like this? This is a rear hoof of a mare in the southeastern United States, in the process of being trimmed. She has never been shod and lives in a natural environment, which means not in a stall, paddock, or grass pasture. She is ridden barefoot and is trimmed maybe twice per year. Her frog is tough and solid, it's wide at the back with wing-like structures in the buttress area to help hold dirt packed in, the frog has a shallow groove in the center at the back, and the frog stays fairly wide as it goes toward the tip, with the tip being smooth and rounded. This is what a frog is supposed to look like.
But let's not get too carried away by looks; after all, looks don't do anything. The frog, like all parts of the hoof, is there for a purpose, to perform certain functions, not to have a certain look. The only reason looks are important here is because we can tell by looking at the frog that it's doing its job, performing its functions. The frog is like a muscle in that if it's used, stressed, and exercised, it'll get big, tough, and strong ... but if it's not used, stressed, and exercised, it'll atrophy, decay, and weaken.
The frog performs many functions, among which are: It's the first link in the shock absorbing mechanism of the foot, it helps the horse sense the terrain its walking on, it transmits ground pressure up through the internal hoof structures to keep the foot wide and the coffin bone high up inside the hoof and relax tension on tendons and ligaments in the leg, and it helps hold dirt in at the back of the foot. The frog is one of the most essential functional parts of the horse's foot.
Yet very few horses who receive "hoof care" have frogs like the frog pictured above. Look at the frog on your horse and compare it to the picture above. Pick up one of your horse's hooves and look underneath. Is the back of the frog the first thing that will touch the ground when your horse's foot lands? If a shoe or long heels contact the ground first, where will the shock of the hoof hitting the ground be transmitted, and what's going to absorb it? When your horse stands, is ground pressure transmitted up through the frog? If not, what's going to keep the foot wide, the heels spread out, the coffin bone high in the hoof, and how is the tension on the tendons and ligaments going to be relaxed? Is the frog wide with the wing-like structures to hold dirt in at the back of the foot? If not, what's going to substitute for the support and weight transfer that the dirt would provide?
Let's stop and think about that for a minute. Are we so sure we can bypass and negate all those essential functions that the frog provides without causing problems down the road? Isn't there a chance that making the frog nonfunctional may be causing damage and changes inside our horse's hooves that we can't see? Could we consider that maybe some of the hoof problems we have with our horses, or even some joint or muscle problems, might be caused by some of those changes that we can't see? Can we can afford to look at the frog and all the functions it provides and say, "That's not important."? Or maybe we might think that the reason we're maintaining our horse's hooves in such a manner that makes the frog nonfunctional is that we're trying to enable something else, or correct something we perceive as a problem, or prevent something even worse. But ... it's absolutely essential, from the standpoint of long-term soundness, that your horse have a functioning frog.
Sometimes it's easier to understand the functioning of the frog if we think about the human foot. When you walk, what touches the ground first--your toes, the middle of your foot, or the heel? I bet it's the heel. Our heel touches the ground first to absorb the shock of our foot hitting the ground. It should be the same for horses. But even beyond the "heel first landing," there is something even more important to realize. We humans just have a one-part heel, but the horse's "heel" is made up of several different parts. The terminology we use for the horse's hoof, in naming the back of the hoof wall as the "heel," can lead to misunderstanding. The heel of the horse includes the entire area at the back of the foot, of which the hoof wall is just an outer covering. The real work of the horse's heel is done by the frog. The frog is the part of the horse's foot that is most similar in function to our heel. What this means is that if the horse's frogs cannot touch the ground, it is the same as us walking around on our tiptoes. Try that and see what it feels like. What if you were forced to do it all the time? If your horse's frogs cannot touch the ground, your horse is walking on its tiptoes...and this is regardless of the fact that the heel area of the hoof wall is touching the ground.
This horse pictured above with the healthy frog was endowed by Nature with strong feet, but that alone doesn't account for such a healthy frog. That horse is maintained in such a way that not only frog health, but the overall wellness of the horse, is supported. And, just as important, negative influences are minimized. The frog on this horse is a result not only of maintaining the hoof in such a way that natural hoof function is not interfered with, it is also the result of the living conditions of the horse. This horse lives where there is plenty of room to move around and where movement is encouraged, and it has a variety of different kinds of terrain to stress the feet. And remember, this horse is only trimmed about twice per year. This horse receives no horse feed and no supplements.
The look of frogs will vary as the environment the horse lives on varies. In general, the harder the terrain, the more bulked-up the frogs will be. On extremely soft terrain, the frogs won't be as bulky. Although the look of frogs will vary with the terrain the horse lives on, one thing's for certain: If your horse's frogs are thin and skinny, deteriorated, peeling or flaking off, have a deep groove in the back, are stretched out thin with a pointy tip, just remember...it's not that your horse has thrush, it's not that your horse has "bad feet," it's not that "she just has poor frogs"...it doesn't mean that you need a hoof supplement or thrush medication...it's mainly a result of not supporting wellness and minimizing harmful influences. It's the result of a frog that's not being used, not allowed to function ... or maybe it's the result of a frog that's been trimmed to make it look nice and make it easy to clean out the hooves. But what are the long-term effects of that? Is the frog just a prehistoric relic that can be cut off or its functions negated and the horse suffer no ill effects? Or is the frog and the functions it performs essential to long-term soundnes?
If you're interested in learning more about the functions of the hoof and why those functions are important, please order the video Understanding the Hoof--From the Horse's Perspective. To learn more about keeping a horse in a natural environment, please order the video Understanding the Horse--From the Horse's Perspective. For a complete guide to keeping a natural horse, barefoot and rideable, please order the book Maintaining a Natural Horse.
You can read this article and others by going to : http://www.horseperspective.com/frog.html
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