Objective The present study investigated the foot health of the Kaimanawa feral horse population and tested the hypotheses that horses would have a large range of foot morphology and that the incidence of foot abnormality would be significantly high.
Procedures Abnormality was defined as a variation from what the two veterinarian assessors considered as optimal morphology and which was considered to impact negatively on the structure and/or function of the foot. Fifteen morphometric variables were measured on four calibrated photographic views of all four feet of 20 adult Kaimanawa feral horses. Four morphometric variables were measured from the lateromedial radiographs of the left forefoot of each horse. In addition, the study identified the incidence of gross abnormality observed on the photographs and radiographs of all 80 feet.
Results There was a large variation between horses in the morphometric dimensions, indicating an inconsistent foot type. Mean hoof variables were outside the normal range recommended by veterinarians and hoof care providers; 35% of all feet had a long toe conformation and 15% had a mediolateral imbalance. Abnormalities included lateral (85% of horses) and dorsal (90% of horses) wall flares, presence of laminar rings (80% of horses) and bull-nose tip of the distal phalanx (75% of horses). Both hypotheses were therefore accepted.
Conclusions The Kaimanawa feral horse population demonstrated a broad range of foot abnormalities and we propose that one reason for the questionable foot health and conformation is lack of abrasive wearing by the environment. In comparison with other feral horse populations in Australia and America there may be less pressure on the natural selection of the foot of the Kaimanawa horses by the forgiving environment of the Kaimanawa Ranges. Contrary to popular belief, the feral horse foot type should not be used as an ideal model for the domestic horse foot.