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Managing a sport horse with high/low heels (aka a clubby foot)

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  • Managing a sport horse with high/low heels (aka a clubby foot)

    I'd love to hear from those of you with a horse with high/low heels (in other words, one clubby foot and one low-heeled foot). My 4 year old gelding has this issue, not the worst I've ever seen but not subtle either. I've got a good farrier who is shoeing him appropriately. His shoulders are different but I expect that his muscling will even out more as he matures and his work increases.

    I'm hoping to take this horse up the levels in dressage, as his and my ability permit. Other than this conformational defect, he's a nice horse with a good brain and suitable for the job ... I'll be the limiting factor, I'm sure.

    What do I need to know about managing a sport horse - i.e. a horse who will eventually have a lot of miles on his legs - with this club foot?

    And a more specific question - my farrier has pointed out that he already has some visible thickening in the pastern area of the club-footed leg. Obviously he will be more prone to ringbone in this leg ... does anyone do preventative maintenance (injections?) for this? My vet said no, but I'm seeking more opinions (and will probably seek a 2nd vet opinion too - nothing against her, just want to be sure). I'd hate to find out years later that I should have been doing more for my boy.

    Thanks in advance!
    "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince

  • #2


    • #3
      I trim just such a mare... nice Dutch Warmblood.

      For her, it's a matter of trimming on a STRICT 4-week trim cycle. I don't make the hooves match: each is treated individually. I keep the heel as low as possible on the more upright hoof and the toe well beveled on both for optimum breakover.

      It works well for her. She's already working on upper level movements and, while her feet won't ever be a perfectly matched pair, they're hard as rocks and she moves like a dream.
      <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.


      • #4
        I assume we're talking about high/low mismatched feet and not true club foot? My mare will develop high/low fronts if not a) kept in front shoes b) trimmed frequently enough. With shoes and a 5-6 week trim schedule, there is barely any difference in her hooves (I would bet that if you didn't know what you were looking for, you wouldn't know it was there). She's made it to 19 and is still happy and completely sound.

        I have tried twice to take her barefoot in front (she has been barefoot behind for several years). Doesn't work. Even with a four week trim cycle, within two months, there was definite high/low, and at four months, one resembled a true club foot, and she was becoming lame. Back to shoes, two cycles later, back to normal hooves.
        *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*


        • #5
          With my high/low horse, it's helpful to work with vet and farrier, take X-rays of the feet to ensure balance (not all the time, but every now and again). Work with a chiro, as horse will probably be out in neck and SI regularly, and a first-class masseuse. Oh and saddle needs to be flocked to account for mis-matched shoulders (otherwise will twist and slip to steeper side).

          With all this in place, my horse has been sound and never missed a lesson or a show due to lameness. It's a bit more management, but definitely worth it.


          • #6
            So much of this will depend on a lot of factors so it's hard as usual to give a "you have to do it exactly this way" sort of answer. I trim a WB (owner is on COTH) who was pretty clubby on one foot when I started with her hoof care at 3-4 years old. She's probably 7 or 8 now and still barefoot and showing over fences. Her feet are so close now that you can hardly tell without close inspection that the one hoof was clubby. This big mare has lovely hoof quality.

            Basically I handled it a lot like chocomare said...kept it as low as realistically possible with trims...did not let it dish or flare. Trimmed the low hoof normally which at first was a tad underrun. Her owner, in between my visits, used her own rasp to keep the heels from getting too tall on her clubby hoof.

            Gradually over time we got her more evened out...and I mean years. Being bare like this the owner was able to help and we were successful in correcting the problem. I ought to get some recent pics as I do have the pics from when I first took her on as a client. It would be interesting to share. As I said, this mare shows barefoot over fences at A hunter shows so I can see no reason why your horse could not stay sound doing dressage with such an issue if it's handled correctly.

            The big thing with these sorts of feet is to not force them to match neither in looks nor angles. Make changes gradually.


            • #7
              My horse is hi/low he stays barefoot and I get after the heel mostly and don't ever take much off the toe. On the low foot i have to really stay on top of that toe because it wants to get long. Like others have said if I tried to make him matched by lowering the high heel he would be sore. I know because a trimmer tried to match his fronts once Also stay on top of things and trim little and often. Although his hairlines don't scream "jamming" I still scoop out slight scoops at the quarters. I feel like whenever I do the scoops I can check back in a few days and suddenly have a lot more heel available to trim off. A farrier commenting on his club foot once said his shoulders DO appear even. I wouldn't know I'm too short to see. I think my methods are working because the horse can win a hack class in good company. He was also at the vet school last summer for an unrelated injury and the ortho doc looking at x ray of the hi foot stated that my farrier is doing a good Job managing the club foot because his bones were nicely aligned. I didn't mention that I was the farrier Sorry about the bad grammar I'm challenged at typing on the phone.


              • Original Poster

                Thanks guys. It all sounds like stuff I would do anyway (saddle fit, body work, good farrier, etc.) just didn't know if I was missing anything.

                So it doesn't sound like anyone has done anything proactive to prevent ringbone then?
                "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Sparkybella View Post
                  With my high/low horse, it's helpful to work with vet and farrier, take X-rays of the feet to ensure balance (not all the time, but every now and again). Work with a chiro, as horse will probably be out in neck and SI regularly, and a first-class masseuse.

                  My jumper mare has this issue & but it has never caused any lameness. We work to keep her on the trim side as any excess body weight is going to be even tougher on her feet. Try to stay on top of her hoof growth with SmartSox & Keratex. I also keep her on Cosequin but that's about her job more than her foot. Stay proactive on wrapping/cold hosing/icing after hard workouts. When there is weather that prevents turn out, try to get him out for a walk or lunge to support healthy blood flow to the hooves.


                  • #10
                    I have one that sounds like the OP horse.

                    He grazes with an extreme split in front legs. Always LF as the forward leg. RF is the upright hoof. I have the stall cleaner make a big pad out of the shavings for his hay so that he doesn't have to stretch down so much when eating hay and then create that big split. It seems to help.

                    Has a jumper's bump behind, and the RH hoof always looks like it runs out in front of the leg. Farrier(s) have said it's OK, however.

                    I don't find him any better or worse that other horses in terms of ability to move ribcage ("bend") to either side. I too, have thought about making him barefoot in front, but it would require moving him to another facility while he takes time to adjust -- it's costly where we are, and he would probably need a bit of time to settle into himself.

                    He thrives on work and training. We no longer jump b/c of that sensitive RF. I use Adequan and Isox and keeping him strong behind to help him all over and to keep the RF comfortable. I use a Mattes shim pad to even out the saddle area (shims in LF and RH pockets).

                    He's a 13-yr-old TB. Sport horse, not track. I think he did the splits behind as a youngster, and that's the source of the jumper bump and what set him on this road to being such a wrecked-up horse.

                    But, with careful usage and emphasis on good balance and strength, he's been a great horse.


                    • #11
                      Oh, and I do body work on him constantly. That grazing stance makes for a sore LF shoulder (and general girth area) -- he also self-medicates with his hay and grass grazing, so he's in that stance a lot -- and tight on the RF shoulder. With the strength he's gained, he doesn't need as much work on his low back, and the shim pad made a REAL difference. But, he gets a quick massage over the topline and his glutes after his pre-ride grooming.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks again to everyone who replied! You all are making me feel so much better about my little guy's prospects of holding up to a real career. Cyberbay, that is a really smart idea to get the hay off the floor and minimize the time spent in that grazing stance. I have always been anti-hay rack (overly-protective mom here, also I'm short and get hay down my shirt every time I load them, yuck!) but now that he is older and less prone to trying to climb on everything it might be a good idea.
                        "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by retrofit View Post
                          Thanks again to everyone who replied! You all are making me feel so much better about my little guy's prospects of holding up to a real career. Cyberbay, that is a really smart idea to get the hay off the floor and minimize the time spent in that grazing stance. I have always been anti-hay rack (overly-protective mom here, also I'm short and get hay down my shirt every time I load them, yuck!) but now that he is older and less prone to trying to climb on everything it might be a good idea.
                          Interesting that you guys make an effort to minimize the grazin stance. When my horse was on stall rest last summer for an injury to the club foot I got him a slow feeder hay net to slow the hay consumption but soon realized that since he was eatin at shoulder height and not grazing he was not standing in the extreme grazing stance. I think this was good because it was his club foot that was injured so standing more evenly on both fronts was probably better for healing and overall posture. Nowadays I use the haynet anytime he's in the stall because his stance is so nice with it... But he's not in the stall very often so I doubt I'm making any actual difference in things

                          And whoever said something about preventing ringbone... My horses x ray from last summer when he was 10 y/o (in moderate jumping work his whole career) showed that some was indeed developing but he seems perfectly sound for not so I guess we will play it by ear.