The permeability barrier in the dorsal wall of the equine hoof capsule was studied by means of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) in 0.9 N saline solution as a water soluble tracer. Sections were treated with 3′3′-diaminobenzidine tetrachloride (DAB) and before dissection the quality of the horn of feet from 10 horses was assessed and given a subjective grade as either good or poor. Blocks of tissue from each horse were left in either an oven at 60°C or in water for 2 weeks before treatment in HRP, sectioning and DAB solution. Regions observed were i) outer surface, ii) outermost layers of the horn, iii) cut edge of the outer layer, iv) inner layer of horn, v) cut edge of the inner layer and vi) laminae. Horn deemed to be normal horn and of good ‘quality’ showed very slight penetration of HRP 3–5 cell layers deep in the outer layer. The cut edge of the outer layer of the wall of the ‘normal’ horn also showed minimal penetration of HRP through the intercellular spaces. The cut edge of the inner layers of the wall of normal, good quality horn showed penetration of the tracer up to 20 cell layers deep, with HRP in both the intercellular spaces and within the cells. In contrast, sections of horn from horses with brittle feet showed deep cracks in the outer surface into which the HRP had penetrated.
Good quality horn showed no change in the position of the permeability barrier after soaking in water for 14 days, but the brittle horn showed an increase in permeability to HRP. In brittle horn, reaction product was seen deep within the section in the intercellular spaces of the intertubular horn only. Placing horn in an oven had no effect on the permeability barrier. The permeability barrier of the dorsal wall of the equine hoof capsule differs with the layer of the wall. Horn considered to be of poor quality had a weaker permeability barrier than horn of good quality.