Common Equine Hoof Disorders


For an in-depth look on Laminitis, see my 2009 article titled "Laminitis"


Contracted Heels

Split or Cracked Hooves

Under Run or Under Slung Heels


What is Laminitis? 

Laminitis is one of the biggest killers in the equine world.  We think that laminitis only affects the front feet, but far from the truth, it can affect all four feet.  It is a very painful thing for the horse to go through, and also for the owner to see.  There are three stages to laminitis, each one with different affects.  So what is laminitis?  It is when the two laminas separate from each other.  Basically, it is the hoof wall and the coffin bone being ripped away from each other, like our fingernails being ripped from our finger.  Not very nice at all, and becomes very uncomfortable for the horse to walk on. 

Prevention of Laminitis

There are many things we can do to help prevent our horses from developing laminitis: 

  • Getting your horse's feet trimmed regularly by a qualified barefoot trimmer. 
  • Providing your horse with a good diet. 
  • Movement of the horse, i.e. we use a Paddock Paradise
  • Keep your horse fit. 

Recognising Laminitis

Things you should look for if you suspect your horse may have laminitis are:

  • Check the crest area along the top of the horse's neck for fat deposits, a sign of obesity. 
  • Are they standing like they are rocking, usually with their front feet stretched in front of them and their hind feet tucked under their belly? 
  • Check for heat around the coronet area on all feet.  Is there a raging pulse, usually around the fetlock area? 
  • Not wanting to move much because of pain in the feet. 
  • Get a competent vet out to help you. 

Read my complete article on laminitis for more detailed insight into this preventable disease

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What is Navicular? 

When we talk about navicular disease a lot of people think that there is only one problem, however there are really two problems of the navicular area. 

  1. Navicular Syndrome – That is when we are really not sure about what is causing the pain in the back of the foot area. 
  2. Navicular Disease – A disease of the navicular bone, which causes changes to the navicular bone that can be seen on an x-ray. 

Treating Navicular

Rehabilitation has less to do with the changes in the navicular bone and more to do with how poorly developed the back of the foot is, and how much you can get the horse owner to take steps to develop the back of the foot.  It doesn't have to be a death sentence.  Treat the horse or mule with a natural trim.  If there is still pain, boot and pad the horse.  While some horses will remain pasture sound, needing to be ridden in boots and pads, others can recover and be sound riding, barefoot animals. 

How to help the navicular problem:

  • Develop
  • Increase exercise
  • Bring in pea gravel
  • Trim for heel-first landing
  • Treat the hoof for bacterial and fungal infections
  • Use pads and boots to develop the back of the foot

This is a very useful article by Pete and Ivy Ramey on navicular syndrome –

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Contracted Heels

What are Contracted Heels? 

When we are looking at the back of the foot, at the frog and heel area, and they look like they have been squeezed together with a vice, it is usually from a shoe. 

So…what is happening at the back of the foot?  It is very painful to load the foot, and it is not fully getting the blood flow it needs at the back of the foot because of everything at the back of the foot being pressed together, such as all the soft tissues. 

What Causes Contracted Heels? 

If a young horse is being shod from an early age, the foot is still growing and is still finding its natural shape.  When a shoe is on a young horse, it is robbing it from its natural shape being formed, so the foot is manmade. 

Correcting Contracted Heels? 

So what do we do about this?  We do not aggressively trim the foot, as it would make it even more sore for the horse to load.  We just have to trim the foot regularly as a natural trim…nothing more, nothing less. 

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Split or Cracked Hooves

Common Causes of Split or Cracked Hooves

When hooves get too long the horse tries to adapt to the lack of wear.  He does this by slowing hoof production, and producing thinner and weaker hoof walls, and this is why we get split or cracked hooves.  This is usually due to lack of trimming or the lack of movement to the foot. 

A wall crack is never the problem, but is a symptom of a problem.  Most cracks form after a neglected hoof flares out or a dead, stretched white line robs the hoof wall support. 

Treating Split or Cracked Hooves 

When natural trimming is begun, the new growth will be beautiful.  Slick, shiny horn will grow in and if the old hoof was brittle, the visible line between the two as the hoof grows out will be astonishing. 

(Excerpts taken from Pete Ramey's book)

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Under Run or Under Slung Heels

Identifying Under Run Heels

This is when we look at the back of the foot, looking at the heel area, and looking from coronet to the ground the heels are looking like they run forward towards the toe area of the foot.  They are usually very long compared to looking at a normal foot which would have further back and shorter heels, which would be obvious when seeing the difference in the feet.  This is usually caused by a lack of trimming of the heels, and not enough movement of the horse to wear away the heels. 

Correcting Under Run Heels

Do a natural trim regularly.  It could take up to 6 to 7 trims to get the result we are looking for.  The thing to remember is that we never ever try to make the hoof do it right away.  Let it naturally come. 

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