Peripheral Loading and the Pad Effect

by Yvonne Welz ©2007, as published in Issue 27 of The Horse's Hoof Magazine

Before I attended Dr. Robert Bowker’s clinic in January, 2007 (read more on page 20), it never occurred to me that a healthy horse should have pads placed into their hoof boots. Or that a horse without sore hooves would benefit from a regimen of boots with pads! What I learned that weekend changed my mind completely, and I’d like to share that compelling information with you.

Dr. Bowker, a professor and scientist, has no connection with any hoof boot companies, so this is not a marketing gimmick! Bowker simply has some extremely interesting research that we can use to our advantage. Whether you are rehabilitating a lame horse, trying to create a tough barefoot performance hoof, or simply trying to maintain your horse’s feet, you need to know this. If you ever use a boot of any kind on your horse, you need to know this. And if you ever ride over flat, hard ground with bare hooves, you need to know this.

What is Peripheral Loading?

Peripheral loading of the hoof occurs when the hoof wall bears more of the weight. Peripheral loading occurs by degrees; there is more peripheral loading in a shod hoof standing on a flat surface, versus a bare hoof on a flat surface. There is more peripheral loading in a bare hoof standing on a flat surface, versus a bare hoof standing on turf. Peripheral loading is dependent on both the type of trimming involved (i.e. shoeing, or trimming so that the hoof wall bears most of the weight) and the surface the hoof is standing upon (whether or not there is material to pack into the hoof, to relieve the peripheral load).

Peripheral loading is a negative thing.

Why? Because Bowker’s Dopplar Ultrasound studies have shown that the greater the peripheral loading, the worse the blood flow throughout the hoof capsule! Bowker discovered that with less peripheral loading, the greater the perfusion of blood flow through the hoof. Better blood flow equals healthier hooves.

The best thing we can do for our horses’ hooves is to try to relieve the peripheral load. How? By transferring some of the load to the sole. Solar loading appears to promote blood flow through the hoof. Think about it—what is natural for the horse? A wild horse lives on undulating terrain, with dirt, grass and weeds. This variable terrain provides a cushion that packs into his hoof as he moves across it. Small rocks and debris provide a constant, but changing, source of stimulation to the sole.

The EasyCare Comfort Pads are an example of a thick foam pad that provides a significant amount of solar support. I prefer the 12 mm standard version. These pads are available for any model EasyCare boot, and could be cut to fit virtually any hoof boot on the market.

Bowker’s studies show that blood perfusion through the foot is highest when a hoof is on pea gravel and on foam pads, both rating at 90 on his index. A hoof standing on cement rates at 50, while wood rates 55. Lowest on the chart is a non-weight bearing hoof, at 40.
If you use any type of boot, consider the interior surface of the boot. There is no way around it—a hard, flat surface will encourage more peripheral loading while the horse is wearing that boot. But put a thick foam pad inside that boot, and you’ve suddenly improved your horse’s blood flow to his hooves! Any horse can benefit from greater perfusion of blood flow, so consider boots with pads as a useful tool for hoof improvement. In general, if you plan to ride your horse on a surface that will increase peripheral loading (i.e., hard & concussive), you will be much better off using boots and pads during that ride.

Message of the day: when using hoof boots, don’t leave home without the pads!

Peripheral Loading Chart
Crude index of blood perfusability:
(normal horses)

Pea rock 90
Foam pads 90
Double weight on pea rock
85-95
Slight exercise 85
Cement 50-65
Wood 55-65
PDN Nerve Block
40-45
Non-Weighted 40-50


"Foam pads create greater perfusion of foot."—Dr. Robert Bowker

(May 2007)

As published in Issue 27 of The Horse's Hoof Magazine

©2007 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.


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