Hoof Conditions - Low Heels

BY Jeffrey Newnham   DWCF 

Low heels are typically found on feet that have a long toe. Often when viewed from the side a “broken back” “hoof-pastern axis” is obvious (picture 1). Sometimes even after the “long toe” has been addressed either by aggressive rasping of the dorsal wall or by locating the shoe back from the toe and the overhanging wall trimmed at an angle (picture 2+ 2a), we are still left with the problem of “low heels”.

Low heels by themselves are not really a problem, but what is a problem is that they can be compressed further causing corns, bruising and general trauma to the caudal aspect of the hoof (picture 3) and its structures.

Improved quality of the horn in this area is highly desirable if these problems are to be minimised. Along with improved horn quality comes (more importantly) horn growing straighter and stronger. No longer crushed or compressed these horn tubules can now begin to play an important part in the health of the hoof wall and in the normal workings and protection of the foot.

An effective direct approach in the treating of these overloaded heels is to simply unload them. This can be achieved by transferring the loading onto other healthy parts and allowing the horn at the heels to recover.

Heart Bar Shoes (picture 4) usually associated with the treatment of laminitis are extremely suitable for this use. Although when used in the treatment of laminitis, radiographs are essential in the correct positioning of this shoe, when used for this purpose are rarely necessary, except if treating or overcoming other lameness (Picture 5).

The shoes from the widest part of the foot posterioly have no contact with the hoof wall (picture 6). All weight is taken on the frog and, anteriorly from the widest part of the foot, on the hoof wall and sole (picture 7).

The gap between the shoe and the caudal hoof wall will (depending on the gap) close within 10-14 days. At this point the shoes are removed, feet trimmed and the horse is reshod. After 5-6 shoeings several things occur

(i) (picture 8) bulges develop in the hoof wall from the widest part of the foot to the heel. (These feet typically are bilaterally contracted) these bulges indicate where the heels will eventually be when the new horn reaches the ground.

(ii) (Picture 9) the bulbs of the heels are now higher off the ground (these feet typically also have the bulbs of the heel close to or touching the ground), indicating the heels are now more upright and less collapsed and compressed.

As soon as these heels are unloaded they immediately begin to recover. The great benefit of this treatment is the horse can still be “in work” whilst repair is in progress. It has the advantage that you do not have to wait until the horse shows lameness before treatment starts. If you are the owner, or have a client, with a horse with these types of feet act now before more complex issues arise.