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How to take hoof pictures

Tips and ideas
For any horse owner it's a great idea to regularly take pictures of your horses' hooves. To document changes, for example, or a specific problem, or to compare before and after trimming/shoeing.

For professional hoof trimmers, documenting their work should be an essential part of their work. However, we have all come home and found out that the pictures we took were not good enough. Here you will find some tips and ideas; if you scroll further down, you will find a checklist and information on what angles to use, etcetera.

  • The best light for taking hoof pictures is natural daylight, but not bright sun. In bright sun you will get very sharp shadows and some of the details might be gone. If it is a very sunny day, try if standing in the shadow will give better results.

  • If you have to take pictures inside the use of a flash will also often mean that some of the details are not visible anymore. If you have to use flashlight it helps if you can at least get some light on the hoof from another source. For example: turning the horse/hooves in such a way that some light from a door/window/overhead light falls on them. Or using a separate portable lamp.

  • Of course it is hard to see details in dirty, muddy hooves. Washing helps - but if the hooves are wet, it again often is difficult to see details in pictures. When you are using a flash on wet hooves the light will 'bounce' and it will be very hard to get clear pictures. So if you have to wash the hooves, rub them dry them with a cloth before taking pictures.
    The same thing is valid for hooves that are wet because the horse has been standing in the rain or in snow. Even if they are clean, dry them first with a rag, an old towel or some kitchen paper for best results.

  • It is a good idea to clearly mark the hooves before taking pictures. After a few months you might not remember clearly if it was the left hind or the right hind, for example. And it is not always possible to see from the picture itself which hoof it is.
    An easy way to do this is to write on the hooves which one it is (see pictures below). A permanent marker is an easy way to do this. A blue marker works well on both light and dark hooves. The markings will wear off in a day or two.
    If the hooves are wet, it is hard to use marker on them.
    Many hooftrimmers mark the hooves with the letters LF, LH, RH, and RF (Left Front, Left Hind, Right Hind and Right Front).
    It is also helpful if you mark any specific problems you see in a hoof; for example, a dotted line around a separation or next to a crack. 

  • The surface the horse stands on should be as flat and even as possible. A concrete floor works very well. If that is impossible, for example a horse in pasture, you can use a flat piece of wood or board on which the horse can stand.
    If you don't have a concrete floor in your own stable, maybe you can put together some large concrete tiles, or use a rubber mat.

  • There are so many types of camera's that it is hard to give specific recommendations. It of course also depends on what else you want to use your camera for.
    Some general thoughts: the camera should be so light that you can hold and operate it with one hand (especially if you don't have anybody to hold up the hooves for you!).
    The camera should be quick - even half a second delay after pressing the button can be too much with a squirmy horse.
    The camera should work well on a short distance. It's very irritating to come home and find out the stable floor is clear and the hoof is fuzzy!
    More and more camera's these days are 'shock proof' and 'water proof'. Certainly worth checking out if you plan on taking many hoof pictures. It is very likely that at some point your camera will get dropped on a concrete floor, kicked by a horse, get rain and hair on it, etc. 
    Most camera's these days have a 'movie/video option' that lets you film a horse. This saves you the trouble of having to take an extra video camera if you want to document walking, trotting etc.
    Some camera's have a separate screen that you can turn. This saves you kneeling on stable floors to take the picture you want. The downside is that not all of these types are easy to operate one-handed.

  • Camera's that come with their own battery are often lighter than camera's that work on regular batteries. However, regular batteries are a lot cheaper and you can buy them anywhere in an emergency. Using rechargeable batteries will save money and the environment.
    All types of batteries will empty very quickly when it is cold. Try to keep the camera warm, for example by keeping it inside your jacket, close to your body. Don't let it lie around in a cold stable or your car. Keep your spare batteries warm, too.

  • Always think about safety! Don't sit or lie on the floor when taking pictures. You should be able to move away quickly.
    With a new, young or nervous horse, let it see and smell the camera first and take a few pictures so the horse gets used to the sound.
    Be careful when taking pictures with flashlight, that can scare some horses.
    Somebody to hold the horse can be helpful, too, so you can concentrate on the pictures. Especially if you have to move the horse around a lot to get the best light on the hooves.

  • Always stop and check after you have taken a few pictures. Is the light good enough? Are the angles correct? Are the pictures sharp, also when they are enlarged to see the details?

  • If the horse has a very long tail, consider making a knot in it (or using an elastic hair band), so you can see the hind feet clearly (and you don't get smacked in the face by it).
    If the horse/pony has a long winter coat, be careful that the coat does not obscure the pictures you take 'from above' (sole pictures). Take the foot slightly out to the side if necessary.
    If the horse has very hairy fetlocks, consider using a piece ('tube') of nylon stocking or the upper part of a cotton sport sock to keep away the hair from the hoof while you are taking pictures. Or ask your helper to keep the hair out of the way (tie up the horse first ;).


Remember to bring following things when you plan on taking pictures:

  • Camera
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra memory stick if you plan on taking many pictures and/or filming
  • Permanent marker
  • Hoof scraper, hoof brush, bucket, water to wash/clean hooves if necessary
  • Rags or old towel to dry the hooves if they are wet
  • Piece of wood/board to stand horse on if the surface is not even
  • Notebook/paper and pen to make notes, if necessary
  • Somebody to help you if necessary.


Which pictures to take

It is a good idea to always start with a picture of the whole horse, seen from the side.

Preferably from the side where there is no mane, and without blankets.

This has several advantages:
- You can document changes in musculature, weight etcetera.

- You can see how the horse stands and if that changes over time and/or after trimming.

- If you take pictures of more than one horse, you know when the next horse starts.


If a horse has specific conformation problems it is useful to have pictures of that, too. For example: in a horse with very crooked front legs you might want to take a picture from the front, so you can see if the legs get straighter over time.


For horses with hoof problems, or before a first trim, it is helpful to at least have a few seconds video of how the horse walks and trots on a straight line.
In case of (suspected) lameness etc. it can also be useful to video the horse while walking and trotting on a circle, for example on a lunge line or in a round pen (if that can be done safely and without making the horse worse).


To fully document a hoof, there are five pictures you should take of each hoof:

  • Straight from the front, camera at hoof level (while hoof is on the ground).
  • Straight from the side, camera at hoof level (while hoof is on the ground).
  • Straight from behind, showing only the bulbs/heels (hoof lifted).
  • From behind at an angle, to show the heels, bars and sole (hoof lifted).
  • The whole underside of the foot straight 'from above', not at an angle (hoof lifted).

With all these pictures it is important to take them from the right angle. For example, a side picture that is not taken totally straight from the side might make the hoof look shorter or longer than it really is. A picture that is not taken at ground/hoof level but with the camera raised slightly will also make the hoof look different.


Professional trimmers will often take a full set of pictures before and after trimming a horse, especially in case of serious hoof problems.



Whole horse picture

Picture of the whole horse, seen from the side. Preferably on a flat surface.
Ideally the person holding the horse should be standing a bit further away, so the horse freely can choose to stand the way it normally does.



Hoof picture 1: from the front

Picture of the hoof taken straight from the front (before trimming).



Hoof picture 2: from the side

Picture of the hoof taking straight from the side (before trimming).



Hoof picture 3: from behind, straight

Picture of the heel/bulb area, taken from behind (before trimming).



Hoof picture 4: from behind, at an angle

Picture of the heels and bars, taken at an angle (before trimming). This shows the height of the heels, the length and height of the bars, the concavity of the sole etcetera.



Hoof picture 5: underside of hoof (sole)

Picture of the whole underside of the hoof (before trimming), taken straight from above.












Not the best lighting conditions. Clubfoot (before trim).


Wet hoof, marker does not 'stick'.


On such a surface it is almost impossible to take good pictures - or to check if the hooves are correctly trimmed.





Unsafe working position...


Pony with very long winter coat; front hoof has to be taken to the side a bit so the picture is not obscured by hair.















Crack is accentuated with marker.








Barefoot horse with too thick soles that caused massive bruising (from the inside out). Bruises are often hard to see on pictures; it helps to outline them with a marker pen.







Hole in sole from old abscess in heel area, outlined with marker.