6 All too Common Hoof Pathologies

1.   Contraction refers to an excessively narrow foot, with heels and bulbs pinched together. This is one of the most common pathologies afflicting domestic horses today. Contracted feet can be linked to a host of behavioral problems such as bucking, rearing, teeth grinding, tripping, head-shaking, rushing or balking.  Jumping horses with contracted hooves will be “dirty stoppers” – refusing to jump fences with the shock-absorbing system in their feet compromised.  These are often horses who will “bronc” or bolt away from the landing site after jumping.  Others may be spooky and nervous on the trails or short strided with stiff mobility to the limbs.  They may be labeled as ‘lazy’.

 2.   Thrush always goes hand in hand with contraction. When the heel bulbs are pinched together, the frog is also stressed, pinched and crowded.  It can atrophy and shrivel up which makes it susceptible to ever-present opportunistic bacteria and fungi.  Many horse owners do not recognize thrush because it is so common.  We are told to occasionally apply some caustic goo in blue, purple or green and forget about it. What is not realized is the impact unhealthy frog pads can have on limb function.  When the frog pads are hurt, the horse will begin to avoid using them and land “toe first”.  This landing limits the horse’s stride range by several inches, and the compromised use of the limb with each stride predisposes him to soft tissue injuries such as tendon or suspensory ligament injuries. Long term, this type of movement leads to navicular or deep digital flexor tendon lameness.  Thrush pain can also cause a horse to stand over at the knee. Commonly considered a conformation fault, this flaw can often be “cured” with improved hoof management!  Below shows is the same foot a few weeks later.

3.   Under-run heels are also known as “under-slung” or “crushed” heels.  This condition is often confusing people and labelled as “this horse doesn’t grow heel” or "no heel.”  The fact is that these horses generally have excess amounts of heel, but it is easily overlooked because it grows on a dramatically forward angle and seems flat to the uneducated eye.  These horses can be predisposed to bowed tendons and suspensory injuries, shoulder troubles etc.

 4.   Flares are one of the most preventable hoof pathologies, and a major contributor to winging/paddling gaits.  Simply provide a balanced trim at regular intervals, and flares will become a non-issue in your horses.  Some horses do need a shorter trimming/shaping schedule of just a few weeks to gain control and heal the flare thoroughly.  Do not leave your horse for months between trims.  Provide him with a clean environment and lots of exercise and he will heal.

5.   Cracks and chipping are also very preventable.  Balanced trimming at short intervals can “cure” chronic cracking problems.  If your horse has quarter cracks, or chips in the quarters, he is receiving a "flat" or non-functioning trim. Trimming to accommodate the natural plane of the foot can eliminate the problem.  If your horse has a coronary band injury, he will probably grow out a thin crack like a scar.  This should not affect his performance.

 6.   Medial/lateral imbalance refers to a horse whose hooves are imbalanced left to right.  Shockingly, many horses are trimmed and/or shod out of balance for years at a time!  These horses often have uneven arthritic changes in the joints of the lower limb (appearing as hard “bubbly” material surrounding the joints).  This imbalance can be a major contributor to ringbone and sidebone. Improvements can be made to these conditions through regular, balanced trimming, resulting in increased comfort and longevity for your horse.


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