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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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