Shoeing Options for Club Foot in Horses

Shoeing options for the Club Foot in Horses

Do you have any recommendations on glue on horse shoes. My 15 year old Paint horse gelding was born with a club foot. He wears Cavallo simple boots, which are great, but was thinking about glue on horseshoes for him.

-Lauri R


club foot horses
Grazing stance allegedly plays a part in many club feet. Photo

Club foot is horseman’s term for contraction of the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT). The foot will have a steeper angle and  smaller size than it’s mate. The most accepted causation  is that horses with long legs and/or short neck adopt a grazing stance where one leg is constantly stretched while the other is not.  Because grazing is a lifelong, primary activity, the unfavored limb can develop  functionally different from than the other. DDFT contracture can also be acquired, resulting from hoof trauma while a young horse is still developing.

No matter the why, the abnormal hoof growth seen in club feet is nature’s way of allowing the shorter (or less flexible?) limb to compensate for this disparity by developing a more upright conformation in the affected limb. The good news is that the majority of horses with a club foot can be shod with modified but regular shoes or kept barefoot with the help of an experienced farrier.
the club foot due to the limb adapting to being slightly shorter either in reality or from of loss of flexibility. Photo


Contracture of the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon

In order to effectively shoe or trim a horse with this contracture one must understand why the tendon contracture would have anything to do with the hoof in the first place.

 The DDFT originates in the forearm, travels down the back of the leg and attaches to the underside of the coffin bone. When the horse engages the deep flexor muscle, the DDFT  lifts the heels off the ground.

Deep Flexor Tendon path, the front left leg’s DFFT will be engaged in the next millisecond. Photo:


club foot horses
the DDFT insertion to the coffin bone. This is why contraction of a muscle in the forearm causes the heels to raise. Drawing
Club Foot in Horses
This is a drawing to demonstrate the mechanical function of the foot, The coffin bone is held in position by the tension of the DDFT pulling back and opposed by the forces in the front of the foot. Drawing by me, made at Ric Redden Symposium @2007


severe grade 5 club foot make s the contracture obvious! photo:


Shoeing and Trimming Low Grade (a.k.a. Subclinical) Club Foot in Horses


The farrier must be conservative and mindful of the desired result when trimming this sort of hoof. Over-trimming the heels will cause more strain on the DDFT, possibly even suspending the heels above the ground! Although gentle stretching may have benefits, too much strain on the tendon will make the sore and susceptible to further DDFT problems.   Under-trimming the heels will leave the hoof overly steep, misaligned and prone to concussion related lamenesses . Excessive toe length will flare and attract White Line Disease as well as strain the DDFT. There must be equilibrium.

club foot horses
heels suspended above ground because of contracture of the DDFT photo:
club foot in horses
club foot with flared toe and WLD. photo

As mentioned, a skilled farrier can keep this hoof in that “just right” position. If this sweet spot is found, maining it by keeping the horse trimmed and/or shod on a 4-5 week rotation may be all that is needed to keep a horse with a low grade club foot sound.  I use four point trimming methods and will forge a broad-toe shoe to protect the sole and ease breakover for these slightly abnormal hooves.

Adding a bit of length via a pad on the club foot only may help some horses. This extra material shims the small hoof slightly.  Pads can be added or subtracted at the next shoeing depending on the results.

4 point trim for clubby foot
4 point trim for clubby foot
regular shoe I forged a  broad toe for low grade club foot


Options for More Severe Contracture

Corrective horseshoes for DDFT contracture will incorporate an elevated heel, a toe that is beveled to ease breakover and some kind of frog support .  Also, the web of the shoe is wider in order to protect the tip of the downward pointing coffin bone.

A farrier can custom make a shoe from scratch or fabricate a package that  combines a premade shoe with solid, pour in, impression material pads to elevate the heels and support the frog.

Nanric and Grand Circuit both make a wide variety shoes specifically for tendon contracture.  These shoes are also used in laminitis as that is a disorder of the DDFT as well. These shoes are designed by leaders in the industry and made from aluminum and  incorporate the elevated heel and eased breakover. The lightweight, one piece design make these shoes the best choice for nail-less shoeing. Check out these links as the huge array of shoes  available.

A farrier may also “rock ‘n roll”, “banana” or “add mechanics” to the shoe as well. This means the shoe will have a convex profile to the bottom to further reduce strain on the DDFT. This is an advanced technique.

club foot
Usoeie of a “Rail” shoe to realign bony column (not a club foot though). This shoe has an elevated heel. rolled toe and the farrier has created a “bannana” profile to further ease breakover and align the coffin bone. Photo:


Management of the club foot in horses primarily depends on keeping  the the hoof aligned with the DDFT. Regular and corrective shoes as well as barefoot trimming can all benefit a horse with this type of conformation. The decision on which route to go will depend on the severity. Radiographs are very helpful.

For further reading on this, I highly recommend reading this Ric Redden article that sums up his grading system and further explanation, Thanks for the question, Laurie, and for reading!

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White Line Disease: Progression and Identification

White Line Disease: Progression and Identification

White line disease  describes the result of an establishment of hoof eating micro-organisms within  the  hoof wall, usually concurrent with another hoof defect, imbalance or injury where the microbes gain entry. WLD feeds on the intertubular horn which fill the tiny voids between the strands of horn tubules. Affected areas begin as areas of wall/sole seperation. Untreated, these voids fill with the digested hoof material, manure and other debris combine creating ideal conditions for the proliferation of the microbes and more hoof loss

White Line
Seedy toe or WLD associated with laminitis. The damaged wall is removed and the remaining horn disinfected. This foot will need shoeing. Note the new, tighter growth emerging.

This article attempts help horse caretakers understand and identify white line disease in horses.

Tubular and Intertubular Horn

The hoof wall is composed of countless whisker-like horn tubules. These horn tubules are constantly produced at the coronary band by the horn papillae. Horn tubules provide  structure, shape and resistance to vertical compression of the horse above. Intertubular horn is  also constantly emerging from the coronary band, but from in the spaces between the horn papillae. Intertubular horn fills the gaps between all of the individual strands of horn providing cohesive stability, resistance to wear, and mass to the hoof wall. Both components are made the same keratinized horn material, but this matrix gives the hoof great strength while remaining flexible.

How White Line Disease Affects the Hoof

Many horses have a small degree of WLD , especially horses in wet environments. Any defect to the hoof wall not open to air flow such as nail holes or old abscess tracts will be prone to WLD invasion.

how to treat hoof abscess
minor case of White Line Disease, this one may be from a resolved submural abscess

Grass Cracks

Grass cracks, named for the dewy fields that can lead to chronically overly wet hooves,  describe numerous, small, superficial splits  caused by the erosion of the binding intertubular horn beneath the surface of the wall from white line disease.  Like grass, they start from the bottom and progress upwards.  The loss of intertubular horn is what causes this delamination of the hoof wall and the weakened areas to fray and split.

Grass Cracks. photo:
Delamination appears as loose, shelly wall is caused by WLD
Delamination,  breakdown of the hoof wall in layers, appears as loose, shelly wall.

Premature Loose Shoes and Clinches Due to WLD

Horseshoe nails, especially loose or ill-fitting can exacerbate WLD. When the wall looses it’s intertubular horn, it loses stability. The damaged wall near the shoe is the most damaged and will not resist vertical compression.  Instead of growing down, it  will flare out to the side. This causes the clinches to loosen. Loose nails move with each step, enlarging the nail holes,  leaving even more weakened hoof for WLD to homestead. Clipped shoes that are not hot fit will also cause this sort of damage because WLD will invade the tiny crack between hoof wall and clip.

WLD worsened by ill fitting clip, long toe and loose nails. photo:
loose clinches, overgrowth, bad clip fit=WLD photo:

Toe Cracks

A toe crack will originate from the center of the toe where the WLD first gains entry. The weakness can be from an old abscess, laminitis, clubby foot, excessive length of toe or from an inherent weakness in some hooves associated  with the mid-dorsal notch of the coffin bone.

The mid dorsal notch of the coffin bone may be a weak spot in the hoof wall. Photo:
entrance for WLD in toe
entrance for WLD in toe
Same foot, from above
Same foot, from above

If the hoof is not returned to a state of balance and the WLD isn’t addressed with methods I will cover a future article, the crack will get larger.

White Line Disease
Toe crack combined with hoof imbalance creates a larger void leading to more WLD

And larger.

White Line Disease
Toe cracks due to excessive toe length and white line disease

Until you have a full thickness crack extending upwards into the coronary band and inwards towards the laminae. This shearing will cause lameness and even rotation of the coffin bone similar to laminitis.

White line disease originally caused by abscess. Neglect has caused a laminitis-like version of white line disease.
White line disease originally caused by abscess. Neglect has caused a laminitis-like version of white line disease. The crack is shearing the sensitive structures and causing inflammation and pain.


White line disease is a very common condition in horses, especially those that already have compromised hooves. Horses with WLD are easy to spot due to the predictable progression of these hoof-hungry microbes.  Fortunately, most cases can be improved with best farrier practices, more frequent trimming/shoeing and environmental changes. I hope to share my thoughts and methods for the management of white line disease  in an upcoming article, so please like, subscribe for updates.

UPDATE-Check out my article Hoof Cracks: 3 reasons why you have them and how to get rid of them  for my methods of managing WLD.



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