Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.
Horses do not have much variety in foot color, unless they happen to be owned by little girls who like to embellish them with polishes, then they may even glitter. But, the natural colors of the horse’s hooves are basic white, black or brown, and combinations of the two called striped or parti-colored hooves. Not saddled with fashion mores of humans, they can wear mix-matched combinations with one horse sometimes sporting hooves of different colors on each leg.
The color of the horse’s hoof is determined above the hoof at the coronet band. The coronet is the live tissue from which the hoof tissue grows. The hoof grows from the coronet down. The color of the skin at the coronet band will follow down into the hoof. So, a leg with white markings down to the coronet band will usually follow through with a white hoof and a dark leg will normally end with a dark colored hoof. If the coronet band has black spots, also known as distal spots or ermine spots, there will be dark stripes on the hoof below the spot. Some breeds characteristically have striped hooves, such as the Appaloosa and other multi-colored horses, and horses and ponies with the silver dapple gene.
You will also notice that the stripes on the horse’s hoof are always vertical, never horizontal. The reason for this is that pigment follows the horn tubules, which run vertically down the hoof wall.
Nutrition and good hoof care will accentuate the intensity of the hoof’s color. Adding a fat supplement to the horse’s feed such as oil or black oil sunflower seeds will give the hoof a natural glossy surface. Cleaning the hooves with a brush and wet sponge, then applying a hoof dressing when making a public appearance is a nice grooming touch. There are various hoof polishes, comparable to women’s nail polishes, on the market. These are often used on show horses, but can be damaging to the hoof if not removed immediately after the event.
Old writings and folklore say white hooves are weaker than dark hooves. But there is no scientific backing to that lore. It is a myth that color has anything to do with the strength or weakness of the hoof, so whether dark, light or striped, it really doesn’t make any difference in hoof quality.
Rick Benningfield from North Texas on November 14, 2018:
I have worked on horses feet for 48 years and this is the best article that I can remembering reading, Thanks! Please do remember that the hoof wall is not bone but are millions of tubules that are interlaced and in turn are laced to the foot and all of the way to the coffin bone (P3) The crack usually occurs from a compression strike causing a separation on the interlacings (What is referred to as a crack) Most Farriers know how to deal with this problem.
angel121 on September 13, 2011:
Very interesting, goes to tell my childs teacher "put that in yooripe and smoke it!!" think they need to read things like this befoe waffleing on a load of garbage at school
Pepper on November 14, 2010:
Very informative and handy. Thanks.
Cathi Sutton on April 04, 2010:
Very nice, and informative Hub! Keep up the good work!
frogyfish from Central United States of America on February 05, 2010:
How interesting a tidbit here! I just love these simple kinda off-the-wall bits of info. Thanks for cute realistic fun!
proudgrandpa on February 02, 2010:
Donna, you are always sharing interesting but very obscure information. I love horses but I never gave thought to their hooves. I have watched my neighbors dress and shoe their horses when they kept them on our farm to graze but I had no idea of the intricacies involved. Thanks for an interesting post. NEIL