School Student's Hoof Project Makes Regionals

Seventh grader Joshua Hoffman explains how parts of his hoof experiment were carried out.


It was a happy day for 7 th grader Joshua Hoffman when his Christian Liberty Academy 2005 Science Fair project made the grade and was accepted for regional competition in the Illinois Junior Academy of Science. After all the hard work he put into his experiment, it was a well-deserved reward. Congratulations, Joshua!

We present here, with permission, the condensed version of Joshua's unique, horse-friendly, well-planned and executed project.


Project title: A Necessary Evil

Category: Zoology

Purpose: Are horseshoes really necessary, and do they help the horses' hooves or do they damage them?

Hypothesis: If natural hooves of wild horses can withstand a variety of terrain like rocks, sand, and water, then metal, nailed-on horseshoes are not necessary and may even be damaging to the functioning of the natural hoof.

Procedure: Five out of six horses were tested: one naturally barefooted, two raised with shoes that made a transformation to a natural barefoot hoof, and two which live and work their lives in shoes. The testing consisted of making hoof impressions in Styrofoam as templates to use for Plaster of Paris molds for measuring and comparisons. Several measurements were documented of the horses bottom hoof (walls, frogs, and bars). Further research of expansion and contraction of the horses hooves during different stages of weight bearing was conducted to determine the effects made with bare hooves and hooves with shoes on, while making contact with the ground. Three weight bearing measurements were made; one, with no ground contact (contracted) the second with the horse standing (passive contact) and the third with horses trotting and having normal active weight and concussion between the horses hooves and contact with the ground (full weight bearing).

Comparison of a healthy, functional hoof to a contracted hoof
Click on Image to Enlarge

Conclusion: Several measurements taken of the under side of the horses hooves (walls, frogs, and bars) showed expansion and contraction under different stages of weight bearing. The horses naturally barefooted had measurements that seemed to expand and contract with uniformity. The hooves were more rounded, the frogs made up for the back and bottom of the hoof, the sole looked smaller and concaved, and the bars were very wide spread, (behind the quarters, but well in front of the heel bulbs). Where as the horses with shoes on, had no uniformity in measurements at all. The hooves were u-shaped, the frog was SO shrunk that the sole was flattened making up for the bottom of the hoof, and the bars invaded the frog becoming one with the sole leaving no heel bulbs. The quarters invaded the bars and heel bulbs, the heel bulbs and bars invaded the frog, the bars and sole became one, basically eliminating the frog altogether. Once the shoes were removed, ground contact stimulated the frogs, greatly changing measurements in expansion. These horses can be rehabilitated as can be seen in the second group of horses tested (Shod/ Transitioned to Barefoot).

Review of Literature [not presented here]: The project includes a 2300-word informational piece compiled from three literature sources: Olivo, Ramey, Jackson.


• One ruler (30cm)

These are some of the plaster casts made from Styrofoam molds of the horses' hooves.

• Sixteen round Styrofoam discs 3cm x 19cm

• One bag of Plaster of Paris (11.34Kg)

• One plastic container with lid (0.96L)

• Four Aluminum pans 20.32cm x 27.94cm

• Three bottles of non-toxic washable color paints (Green, Blue, Yellow)

• Three paint brushes (0.635cm to 2.54cm)

• One large roll of duct tape and/or Two rolls of Vet Wrap

• One rounded tip scissors

• Access to warm water (watering can)

• Hoof pick with brush end

• Halter and lead rope

• Horse treats (carrots, apples)

• Certified Professional Horse Handlers for assistants

• Owner of Horses

• Farrier and/or Farrier Tools

• Notebook and pen/pencil

• Protective Wear (helmet, knee pads, gloves, glasses, steel toe boots)

Joshua compares the plaster copy to the real thing - an exact likeness.

• Six Horses with and without shoes (two natural barefooted/two shod transitioned barefooted/two shod)

Variables [not presented here]: Independent, Dependent, Controlled Variables, Controlled Groups; Graph (hoof expansion and contraction for each horse); Table (width and length of hoof, width and length of frog, width of bars during no weight bearing, standing, and trotting)

Photographs [only a select few presented here]: There were about two dozen color photos and graphics showing the plaster casts from different perspectives, and the charts of their recorded differences.


Conclusion: As the age-old term refers to horseshoes as a necessary evil, the result of this experiment supports my hypothesis that horseshoes are not necessary for horses' in their natural environment, but it is an evil practice. The horses' hooves are designed by nature to withstand a variety of terrain. They can become hard as steel, but by no means flat as steel. Unlike steel they also must be pliable. The result of this experiment also supports my purpose that horseshoes are not necessary and that horseshoes do damage the horses' hooves in more ways then one. Horses hooves are designed to expand and contract. The multiple results of this experiment show how the horses' hooves are hindered, and become deformed by the nailing on of metal shoes to live anatomy. The results are comparable to the same process of oriental foot binding.


The horseshoe is nailed on to the horses' hooves in a contracted state. The hoof cannot function properly by expanding under pressure of the horses' weight with the shoe attached. In reality it becomes more contracted using its original contracted state for greatly needed expansion. The hoof underside is flattened to attach a metal shoe; this begins the break down of the horses natural hoof function, which causes a domino effect. Contraction and expansion is also hindered in the flat-footed horse. This is where the damage really begins. Many hoof impressions are left in the sand, mud and snow as well as all other animal tracks. But the tracks of an individual animal can be bigger and smaller in size under different load bearing stages like standing, walking, or running.


By experimenting with my own hands and feet, I traced an outline of their impressions on paper resting lightly and then again under weight bearing as if in use. The outlines showed there was expansion and contraction. I repeated this again, but this time I painted oil on my hands before tracing them to see what else may have changed to cause this expansion and contraction. I could clearly see expansion and imagined wearing steel gloves or shoes that would restrict my limbs from functioning properly and how it might hurt, especially over longer periods of time, like steel horseshoes, nailed-on to the horses' hooves for six to eight weeks long. It was with trial and error, that I found a way to test horses' hooves for this project, and at times, I almost abandoned it completely. One idea was to paint the bottom of the horses' hooves and measuring the hooves hoof prints left on pavement. The painted hoof prints would not show up at all if the horse wore shoes, because the bottom of the hoof made no contact to the ground. A second idea was to pour Plaster of Paris in the hoof impressions left in sand. But when the Plaster of Paris was poured into the hoof impressions, the sand collapsed, leaving nothing again to work with. The third idea was to have the horse step into a container of fresh Plaster of Paris long enough to let it form, but it was impossible to keep a horse steady long enough without shifting or moving at all.


Once again, I almost abandoned this project altogether. However, it was brought to my attention that a veterinarian treated a sick horse by placing foam under its hooves. The owner remembered the hoof impression was perfect upon removal. This is how I was able to continue this project after many hours of discouragement, trial and error. I was determined to find something. Unfortunately, financially I could not find any company to aid me with this choice of foams on the equine market. Thanks to the simple arts and crafts stores, I decided to use Styrofoam. Styrofoam preserved the horses hoof impressions leaving a template for making a plaster cast mold, data for measurement, and way to research the horses' hooves changes of contraction and expansion. It also showed the horses' hoof under different load bearing stages, naturally (barefooted) and artificially (restricted by metal shoes).


This project has led me to believe that there is a lot more data that can be acquired. Measurements of the point of the frog to the point of the toe should be added along with measurements of depth of the whole underside of the functioning hoof. The casts clearly show depth changes are a real factor to consider. It was very challenging to create hoof impressions for data, and then using the data to create a graph from scratch. I learned that this subject was of great interest dating back as early as the 1800's and that a veterinarian, Bracy Clark dedicated 20 years of his life researching it, and to the best of my knowledge it has not been completed since.


Epilogue: Since the Christian Liberty Academy 2005 Science Fair, This Science Fair Report Titled "A NECESSARY EVIL" is in the process of application for copy write. Upon request, I have also agreed to article publication in The Natural Horse Magazine, and The Horses Hoof Magazine of my experimental procedures, findings, data and research. I have also agreed to forward my research for review for possible further research and studies with my experiment procedures, findings, data and research, as a future pioneering plan to repeat and verify my findings for possible publication at the request of Dr. Thomas Teskey DVM by him for the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.


Mrs. Hoffman's update: There were no sponsors for the Zoology category. It seemed that the projects that benefited mankind were most recognized, however that did not stop many people from referring others to see this project, which shows there was real interest. Sorry to say, it did not make it to state this year, but Joshua might just keep improving it for next year. Joshua said he can now understand how Bracy Clark felt!


Natural Horse Magazine thanks Joshua for sharing his experiments and findings with our readers, and wishes him the very best in his future endeavors!