Contracted Heels

Also Known As

Long toe/Low heels, Narrowed heels

Description

Contracted heels in a horse are characterized by a shift of the hoof and a subsequent narrowing of the foot. Primary cases of contracted heels result from incorrect trimming, overgrown hoofs, or unbalanced feet with either long toes or low heels.

When a horse has contracted hoofs, constriction of the blood vessels, nerves, bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments within the hoof can create problems and pain. In an attempt to ease the pain, the horse favors the hind region of the hoof and the coffin bone stands more steeply. The front regions of the corium and the front edge of the coffin bone press on the solar corium reducing blood flow and poorer quality horn is produced.

Because of the decreased weight on the heel, it grows more quickly, causing an awkward angle of the hoof which affects tendons, joints, and ligaments.

Lameness and disuse of the limb can result in hoof atrophy leading to disruption of the shock-absorption mechanism of the foot and a case of contracted heels.

Problems associated with contracted heels include being hoof bound when the contracted hoof wall presses against internal structures, as well as development of crevices and grooves formed by the contracting hoof. These cracks and crevices create a favorable environment for thrush and infection.

Symptoms

  • Noticeable narrowing of the foot
  • Hoof appearance may be similar to the shape of a mule's hoof
  • Sole is concave
  • Frog begins to atrophy
  • Horse's walk may be stilted or deviate from a normal, healthy walk
  • Development of poorer quality horn
  • Development of navicular disease or other pain-causing foot diseases

Causes

Incorrect shoeing and/or trimming of unshod hoofs, combined with a lack of sufficient movement or too much time on unsuitable ground causes contracted heels. In addition, some horses are prone to contracted heels because of the shape of their hoofs.

Horses with long toes or with a toe that grows at a faster rate than the heels, or those with a hoof wall that is allowed to keep growing out front without proper trimming, have a tendency toward contracted heels.

Thoroughbreds commonly have contracted heels because of the style of trimming and shoeing used to encourage greater speed.

Prevention

Proper trimming and shoeing are the most important factors in preventing contracted heels. The services of a good farrier are necessary for keeping a horses hoofs healthy and in the best shape possible.

Daily visual and digital inspection of a horse's hoofs will catch many problems before they become serious. Keeping pastures and arenas in good condition with  regularly scheduled liming of pastures and paddocks helps to minimize bacteria in the environment and keep hoofs healthy.

Adhering to a regular shoeing and trimming schedule is crucial. Every six to eight weeks, a competent farrier should examine, trim, and either adjust shoes or reshoe the horse if necessary.

Treatment

To treat contracted heels, maintain a schedule for proper trimming and shoeing. Moving the shoe toward the rear of the hoof close to the white line on the bottom of the foot, and removing excess hoof wall by rasping, will help correct the shape of the hoof. .

Choosing shoes that allow more expansion of the width at the heels and leaving the heel nail out of the lateral side of the foot will also give the foot freedom to expand. Wedge pads can be used to elevate the heel of the horse. Trimming the hoofs in such a way that the hoof capsule can broaden is important.

Keeping the horse on even ground or pasture after proper trimming and shoeing will allow a return to proper movement of hooves and will help the horse overcome the problems associated with contracted heels.

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