Breeding or Genetics?

It is commonly believed that we have bred domestic horses to have poor or small feet. A common example is the halter-bred Quarter Horse whose feet are small and upright due to breeding for this desirable characteristic. While individual breeds do have certain common characteristics to their feet, we have not been breeding horses long enough to have altered their genetic characteristics.  Furthermore this assumes that the pool starts with some examples of genetically small-hooved individuals.  Their poor hoof quality or shape is largely a result of their environment and lifestyles while they are growing up.

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Heel Height and Pastern Angles

A Right Front Foot With Poor Hoof Form Causing Steep Pastern Angles

The foot starts out with very poor hoof form, and in fact the horse was lame at the time of the before photo. The lateral cartilage (1) is unnaturally pushed up and and bulging out of the back of the hoof capsule, the heel (2) is too high and forward and the lateral quarter (3) is too long causing the flare and chipping. But the most glaring problem is the steep pastern angle (red line) resulting from the heel height and location and toe length.

1rfside.JPG       2rfsideabl.JPG  Before                                                                       After Second Trim

It is commonly believed that the pastern angle is fixed and the hoof should be trimmed to match it.  This is a misconception, as the joint is mobile and the angle easily altered according to the hoof form, provided there is no joint adaptation and the joint still retains a normal range of motion.  In this case the pastern angle was changed to a much healthier alignment in two trims by lowering the heels, bringing them back towards the widest point of the frog, shortening the quarter walls, and shortening the toe.

Sheared Heels

This is the Left Front foot, shoes just removed, and has sheared heels.

This type of pathology can be caused when the feet are trimmed unlevel, and the shoes fix the structures and tissues in this position.  It is most easily dealt with by allowing the horse to be barefoot, where the foot can be trimmed in such a way to allow the imbalances to correct themselves.


While the inside and outside walls are the same in length, the inside is higher, starting further up the leg (point B).  The hairline (green line) is steeper on the outside than the inside.  The connective tissue inside has been held in place pathologically and has adapted to this orientation.  To make a change towards a healthier foot, the inside (higher) wall is trimmed shorter.  As the horse places weight on the leg it allows point B to move down (from the red line to the yellow line), and eventually the tissues readapt to their natural position.

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No More Navicular

Barefoot horse takes second place in Hunter Pace, Hilltopping Division. 

Windy Hollow Hunt, May 7 2006 Spring Hunter Pace (Florida, NY)

View Official Results Here


This 20 yo OTTB, who went barefoot at the age of 15 after a fatal navicular diagnosis, completed the challenging hunter pace completely bare (no hoof boots). The terrain included dirt roads, hard-packed grass fields after weeks of no rain, softer grassy fields, a ditch and muddy bank on the edge of a stream, a good bit of rocky going, asphalt road crossings, and deep plowed up cornfields.

Besides the beautiful red ribbon (visible on the bridle above), the prize was one free hunt capping fee for the ’06-’07 Season.  Barefoot fox-hunting next?

The worst thing that happened was that the rider lost her favorite crop which had been in her possession for many, many years and miles, was just the right length and balance, and probably cannot be replaced.

One month later horse and rider completed another hunter pace (Spring Valley Hounds, New Vernon, NJ), this time in the Open Division.  Again they rode shoe and boot-less and although the footing was more forgiving, there were 2’6 high jumps, a much faster pace (thanks to improved fitness) and stiffer competition.

Here is a picture of the pair jumping a stone wall at Spring Valley Hounds.

His complete case will be published in future posts, so check back!

LF Lameness, Unspecified Origin

The horse is a lovely 3.5 yo Irish Draught Sport Horse.

lfscothp.jpg  lfsolecothmu.jpg  

LF sole views

Bars below midpoint of the frog, to apex of frog, should be smoothed out level with the sole (shown in red). This will remove a source of pain.

The bar’s high point (dark blue) is higher than the heel buttress (green) causing it to be weightbearing.  As the horse places weight on the foot he steps on the highest part, the bar, and this is causing pain. She should be weighting the heel buttress first and the bar should be passive. The bar should be lowered beneath the level of the heel buttress. The heel pain resulting from this distortion is visible in this view of the horse with the LF back and the heel not contacting the ground:



LF lateral view  Continue reading


The horse, a 5 yo Clydesdale/TB cross, was shod for a period of about six months (or less) while four years old, during which time he developed splints.

After shoes were removed, he was trimmed for minor lateral imbalances, pigeon toes, slightly high heels, and too long quarter walls resulting in wavy hoofwall rings. The splints were reduced in size as a side effect of that trimming, leading one to conclude there is a possibility that pigeon toed “conformation”, combined with concussion, can cause splints.


Approx. time of this trim July ’06.

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Quarter Crack

 The horse, about 7 or 8 years old had been barefoot for most of his life, with apparently appropriately short heels and toes, but still had persistent quarter cracks on both feet. His feet were badly unbalanced and had underrun heels. 


Right Front Before

during-crack.jpg                                          sole-heels.jpg

During                                                              Before Sole View RF foot

Heel position improved, removing lever forces on hoofwall. Hoof/Pastern Axis improved. The crack is still visible but is no longer splitting.

The sole view shows uneven underrun heels – the lateral heel of the RF is more underrun than the medial one and is further forward underneath the foot (refer to yellow line and arrows) , which is contributing to the quarter crack on that side of the foot. During the following months the heels were brought back to the widest point of the frog where they lined up with each other.

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