Surface strains were recorded from four rosette gauges at different sites on the right forehooves of three ponies running on a treadmill at seven constant speeds and using three gaits. Principal strains determined from the rosette signals indicate that the hoof material is loaded predominantly in compression and that the wall is distorted in a regular, repeatable manner at all speeds and gaits. Peak principal strains reach −5000 με, compared with −2800 με reported for the equine radius under similar locomotory conditions. Orientations of peak compressive strains do not correlate strongly with microstructural axes in the material. Comparison of our in vivo strain records with previous in vitro studies of the material properties of the wall shows that hoof keratin behaves as a multidirectional composite, capable of tolerating its usual operating strains in any direction. This mechanical behaviour also allows the material to withstand many unpredictable loading situations when the hoof contacts irregular substrata. An important property of the hoof wall is its ability to resist or redirect cracks. We found that the anterior aspect of the wall is loaded in biaxial compression, which assists in preventing the formation or propagation of cracks and reduces peak strain magnitudes. The strain patterns correlate well with current models of hoof distortion during weightbearing. In these models, transmission of force between the ground and the skeleton is seen as the primary cause of compression in the material. The third phalanx, which transmits the weight, is effectively suspended from the inner surface of the hoof wall. Spreading of the posterior borders (heels) of the hoof also occurs. The combination of weight-bearing, suspension of the third phalanx and heel spreading is probably responsible for the uncommon loading condition of biaxial compression on the anterior wall.

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