Category Archives: horseshoe selection

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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Adding traction devices to the horseshoe

 Adding traction devices to the horseshoe

If your riding plans involve traveling over footing that presents a slipping hazard, you may want to ask your farrier about adding traction devices to your horseshoes next time. Be sure to let the horseshoer  know in advance so that they will have the appropriate supplies and enough time. There are so many options, so it is not always possible to have every horseshoeing supply on hand.

Do all horses need borium, drill-tec, studs?

No.  For example, the horse’s bare foot provides excellent traction and most horseshoes have a feature called fullering that fulfills the traction need for the majority of situations.

 fullered shoe for added grip.
fullered shoe for added grip.

Fullering  is the crease that runs through the center of the web of the shoe. Your farrier may call it the crease.  Dirt and small rocks pack tightly into this grove which give the shoes  a grippier surface.  This seems to be adequate for most of my clientele.

Drive-in Studs

One option to add traction to a shoe is to use drive-in studsTo do this, the farrier will use a drill press to create additional holes in the horseshoe, then drive the slightly flared plugs of hardened metal into the shoe. The shape of the stud and the weight of the horse keeps these cleats snugly and permanently embedded into the shoe.

drive in studs
The drive in studs are easy to instal and available in different sizes
drive in studs
drive in studs give extra traction on paved roads


Screw in Studs

If you would like to be able to adjust the traction of the shoe screw in horseshoe studs put you in charge. All you need to do is ask your farrier drill and tap your shoes for studs before your next appointment. This will allow you to customise your horse’s grip by using a threaded “stud”. The studs are easy to install with a simple ratchet wrench and are taken out after riding or driving.

If this is something new to you be sure to do some research, or better yet, seek expert advice on the best traction option for your situation .

Borium or Drill-Tech brazed Onto the Shoe

Borium or Drill-Tech are a combination of a filler material, usually brass, and very hard metal (drill tech is made of crushed up metal drills) that when heated along with the shoe, permanently bonds. This, combined with the weight of horse and rider, provides a non-slip surface on hard uniform surfaces such as limestone, concrete or pavement.

In addition to giving additional grip, shoes with Drill-tech or borium will prevent a shoe from becoming excessively wore down making it a good choice  for horses that travel on the road or over rocky terrain regularly.

Middle Tennessee Farrier
shoe heated with torch to braze tungsten carbide, a hard metal, the horseshoe’s groundbearing side for increased traction on pavement
Other Traction Devices
  • Toe grabs, turndowns, blocked heels and stickers are lingo common  flat race shoe options that are not used on saddle horses.
  • Cart horses in Europe are shod to give the best grip on the varied types of cobblestone used in regions. The history of traction in horseshoes evolves as our relationship with horses continues to change
  • Reining horses wear shoes designed to decrease traction.

There are even more types of traction for horses that I don’t regularly use. Older horseshoeing textbooks contain many ingenious tips and tricks of methods used quickly adding extra grip to a shoe that are not commonly used today. I am certain that we can all look forward to new and better ways of helping our horses get a grip as farrier technology evolves.

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