Equine hoof wall: Structure, properties, and bioinspired designs

Benjamin S. Lazarus, Rachel K. Luu, Samuel Ruiz-Pérez, Wendell Bruno Almeida Bezerra, Kevin Becerra-Santamaria, Victor Leung, Victor Hugo Lopez Durazo, Iwona Jasiuk, Josiane D.V. Barbosa, Marc A. Meyers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The horse hoof wall exhibits exceptional impact resistance and fracture control due to its unique hierarchical structure which contains tubular, lamellar, and gradient configurations. In this study, structural characterization of the hoof wall was performed revealing features previously unknown. Prominent among them are tubule bridges, which are imaged and quantified. The hydration-dependent viscoelasticity of the hoof wall is described by a simplified Maxwell-Weichert model with two characteristic relaxation times corresponding to nanoscale and mesoscale features. Creep and relaxation tests reveal that the specific hydration gradient in the hoof keratin likely leads to reduced internal stresses that arise from spatial stiffness variations. To better understand realistic impact modes for the hoof wall in-vivo, drop tower tests were executed on hoof wall samples. Fractography revealed that the hoof wall's reinforced tubular structure dominates at lower impact energies, while the intertubular lamellae are dominant at higher impact energies. Broken fibers were observed on the surface of the tubules after failure, suggesting that the physically intertwined nature of the tubule reinforcement and intertubular matrix improves the toughness of this natural fiber reinforced composite. The augmented understanding of the structure-mechanical property relationship in dynamic loading led to the design of additively manufactured bioinspired structures, which were evaluated in quasistatic and dynamic loadings. The inclusion of gradient structures and lamellae significantly reduced the damage sustained in drop tower tests, while tubules increased the energy absorption of samples tested in compact tension. The samples most similar to the hoof wall displayed remarkably consistent fracture control properties. Statement of significance: The horse hoof wall, capable of withstanding large, repeated, dynamic loads, has been touted as a candidate for impact-resistant bioinspiration. However, our understanding of this biological material and its translation into engineered designs is incomplete. In this work, new features of the horse hoof wall are quantified and the hierarchical failure mechanisms of this remarkable material under near-natural loading conditions are uncovered. A model of the hoof wall's viscoelastic response, based on studies of other keratinous materials, was developed. The role of hydration, strain rate, and impact energy on the material's response were elucidated. Finally, multi-material 3D printed designs based on the hoof's meso/microstructure were fabricated and exhibited advantageous energy absorption and fracture control relative to control samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-445
Number of pages20
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioinspiration
  • Biological material
  • Composite
  • Energy absorbtion
  • Equine hoof
  • Impact resistance
  • Multi-material additive manufacturing
  • Viscoelasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


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