Morphological and mechanical studies were conducted on samples of equine hoof wall to help elucidate the relationship between form and function of this complex, hierarchically organized structure. Morphological findings indicated a dependence of tubule size, shape and helical alignment of intermediate filaments (IFs) within the lamellae on the position through the wall thickness. The plane of the intertubular IFs changed from perpendicular to the tubule axis in the inner wall to almost parallel to the tubule axis in the outer wall. Morphological data predicted the existence of three crack diversion mechanisms which might prevent cracks from reaching the sensitive, living tissues of the hoof: a mid-wall diversion mechanism of intertubular material to inhibit inward and upward crack propagation, and inner- and outer-wall diversion mechanisms that prevent inward crack propagation. Tensile and compact tension fracture tests were conducted on samples of fully hydrated equine hoof wall. Longitudinal stiffness decreased from 0.56 to 0.30 GPa proceeding inwardly, whereas ultimate (maximum) properties were constant. Fracture toughness parameters indicated that no compromise results from the declining stiffness, with J-integral values ranging from 5.5 to 7.8 kJ m-2 through the wall thickness; however, highest toughness was found in specimens with cracks initiated tangential to the wall surface (10.7 kJ m-2). Fracture paths agreed with morphological predictions and further suggested that the wall has evolved into a structure capable of both resisting and redirecting cracks initiated in numerous orientations.