What Are Horse Hooves Made Of?

Horse hooves are essential to the horse’s wellbeing. Without solid, round, strong feet, a horse would not be able to hold its weight, run as fast as it does, and jump as high as it can jump.

What Are Horse Hooves Made Of?

Horse hooves are actually an incredible example of engineering. The hooves are really complex, and are made up of several different parts in order to keep the horse healthy.

The hooves are even connected to the heart, as blood is pumped through the arteries towards the hoof, which physically expands and contracts in order to pump the blood back up to the heart. 

But what are horse hooves made of? Let’s find out!

What Are Horse Hooves Made Of?

What you may not know is that the hoof is one of the most complex parts of the horse, and even a small injury to the hoof can cause severe damage and pain for your horse. This is why having strong hooves is so important. 

Naturally, horse hooves are made up of a protein keratin. This is the same fibrous protein that makes up hair, nails, horse, hooves, wool and feathers. Keratin serves as an important protective material that can prevent harm from delicate areas. 

This is the same for horse hooves as it is for fingernails. Our fingernails protect our nail beds, much like horse hooves protect the feet and legs of the horse from harm.  

But, horse hooves are not just made of keratin. Keratin makes up the majority of the outer structure, and this part grows continuously like fingernails, which is why horses need regular hoof trimming appointments. 

Other parts of the hoof are made up of tissue, bone, nerves and tendons that work together simultaneously to protect the feet and provide stability for the horse when moving and standing.

What Are Horse Hooves Made Of?

Parts Of A Horse Hoof

There are various different parts of a hoof, but we will start with the hoof wall. The hoof wall is the outer structure of the hoof that supports and protects the structures inside of the hoof.

This is the part that supports the horse’s weight, and does not have nerves or blood vessels. As a result, this is the keratinous part of the hoof that the horseshoe is nailed into. 

Then we have the coronary band where the hairline meets the hoof. Following this, we have the periople, which protects the hoof wall. You also have the inner wall, which absorbs shock and protects the inner parts of the hoof.

Underneath the hoof, we have the sole, but this is concave in shape and so it does not touch the ground. If you look at the underside of a hoof, you will see the frog.

This is the V shaped structure pointing downwards from the heel of the hoof. This is a sensitive part of the hoof that helps the horse understand the ground it is walking on, and cushions the feet. 

You will also notice that there are bars that turn in at the heel, running along the frog, which strengthen the heels and also help to support weight. Then, you’ll see the central sulcus which is wide and shallow underneath. 

At the innermost parts of the hoof, there is a digital cushion just below the coffin bone. This is one of the most vital shock absorbers in the foot.

The coffin bone is the bottom bone inside of the hoof itself. Finally, just behind the coffin bone is the navicular bone that helps to stabilize the hoof so that the horse does not trip over when walking on uneven ground. 

Do Horses Feel Pain In Their Hooves?

This depends where in the hoof the pain is. If there is damage to the internal structures of the hoof, then yes horses can feel pain in the hooves.

For instance, many things can affect a horse’s hooves, such as laminitis, puncture wounds, infections, scratches, thrush, bruises, cankers, fractures, or navicular disease. These may cause some pain in the hoof if a horse is affected.

However, simply walking on the hooves and having horseshoes fitted involves just the outer structure of the hoof, which does not have any nerve endings, and so this does not hurt the horse or cause any pain.

What Are Horse Hooves Made Of?

Are Hooves Like Fingernails? 

In some ways, yes hooves are like fingernails. As mentioned above, horse hooves are made up of the same material as your fingernails, which is called keratin.

However, this is only the outer part of the hoof, as the inner bits may be more tender and soft as these parts are made from soft tissues, tendons and bones. 

Does It Hurt Horses To Have Horseshoes?

Horseshoes have been fitted on horses as early as 400 BC. They have always been a means of protecting the feet and providing horses with a stable, strong base to walk, trot and canter on.

A horseshoe is specifically made and shaped to fit the horse’s hoof, and is nailed into the outer structure of the hoof.

Therefore, no it does not hurt the horse as it is fitted on the outer part of the hoof, which has no pain receptors or nerve endings that would cause the horse discomfort or pain. 

That being said, horseshoes should always be fitted by a professional farrier, as those who do not know how to shoe horses properly may go too deep with the nails, or not position the shoe properly, which can then cause pain and discomfort for the horse. 


To summarize, horse hooves are one of the most complex structures that Mother Nature has ever designed. They are made up of a range of parts, and are composed of bone, tissues, and tendons. 

For the most part, horse hooves are made up of keratin, which is the protein that is in fingernails, horns, and hair.

This acts as a protective structure that ensures the foot and the hoof is safe and secure at all times, so that horses can stand, walk and run without pain and with the support that they need to remain healthy.

Catherine McDowl
Latest posts by Catherine McDowl (see all)