Nonexistent Heels

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Dropped down egg bar shoe

Q: The heels on the hind feet of my 15 year old dressage horse are actually nonexistent. I've tried "Level It" and it didn't work. We are now using pads to raise the heels but they are still not growing. The horse is not lame.

Any help would be GREATLY appreciated.

A: Upon study of your question, two things come to mind. One, nonexistent heels on your dressage horse. Two, the horse is not lame.

Let's take number one. The nonexistent heels on your dressage horse have caused you to attempt to correct the situation with LEVEL-IT, and it didn't work. Now you are using pads to raise the heels and the heels are still not growing. It is my opinion that the LEVEL-IT didn't work because it wasn't properly used, and I will explain this later. The pads are not working because they never do in cases of this severity.

Now for number two. The horse is not lame -- yet. What I mean by "yet" is that a horse with nonexistent heels that is doing dressage is a time bomb waiting to go off. I would be willing to bet that this is not an upper level dressage horse. The engagement required in an upper level dressage horse would break down a horse in short order if he had nonexistent heels. This horse would be subjected to corns and degenerative joint disease from the coffin joint to the hock and sometimes beyond. This condition could also result in strained and bowed ligaments and tendons as well as damaged muscle and back problems, just to mention a few things.

Let me say that I have pictured the worst possible scenario, not having seen the horse. If I could wave a magic wand, I would. But of course I can't so I will tell you what has worked for me. Thorough knowledge of the anatomy of the hoof will allow one to realize the very nature and structure of the horse's foot are horn tubules. I have seen this long toe, low heel syndrome time and time again. It isn't that you horse doesn't have heels, it is just that they are growing horizontally instead of vertically. Putting Level-it on the horizontal heel only stimulates the horn to grow longer horizontal heels. Using wedge pads to raise the heels will continue this horizontal growth and given enough pressure will oftentimes crush the horn tubules, thinning and weakening them and causing them to wear rapidly. Hence, nonexistent heels.

So where do we start? We start by relieving all stress and pressure from the heel area. This is done with a square toed dropped down egg bar shoe extending back far enough past the bulbs to put a lift on the fetlock, thereby reducing the amount of downward thrust that is causing tremendous pressure on the heels.

The shoe should be fitted with quarter clips and should be set back approximately 1/4 inch from the toe. The heel tubules of horn, from the 4th nail hole back should be relieved so that this portion of the foot is not touching the shoe. The success of this shoe will largely depend upon the care given by the horse owner after the shoes are applied. The horse owner should be given a brand new, cut-anything hacksaw blade and told to clean out this area daily, keeping the hoof wall clear 1/8 - 3/16 inch above the shoe. This is necessary so that the heel area will be relieved of its duties as bearing horn and will allow the tubules to relax due to the lack of pressure and to start growing vertically as opposed to horizontally.

Vertical heel growth is not an overnight miracle. The results of this procedure may take several shoeings on a horse of this age. In the past I have had some astounding success in short order but those were exceptions to the rule.

Although this shoe may raise the hoof angle, that is not its design and purpose. Therefore, do not be misled by well meaning people who will tell you to just jack up the heels. The shoe does not jack up the heels; it is a supportive shoe and a stress-relieving shoe.

There have been cautions expressed about this type of shoeing. A frequent caution is, that if this shoe is left on too long it could cause contraction of tendons. It has been my experience that the structures that contract are the flexor tendons and Suspensory ligaments, which have been stretched to an abnormal length and weakening. This shoe will in fact cause these structures to contract to a more normal length and strength, which will also relieve stress to the heels of your horses' feet.

Be advised that any corrective shoeing may have negative as well as positive side effects. Therefore you should pay close attention to excessive heat and/or swelling that may occur. I mention this only to alert you to these possibilities. As stated above, however, I have found this shoe to be highly successful in supporting horses with strained Suspensory ligaments and have seen it grow heel on young and old horses alike.

I would just like to briefly touch on LEVEL-IT. Had the horizontal tubular horn been removed clear back to more vertical horn growth and had the LEVEL-IT been applied then, you may have had success. I think that this shoe is a better remedy, however.

If, after 2 shoeings at 6-8 week intervals you are unable to measure new hoof growth at the heel, I would suggest that you look into the possibilities of a full protection shoe and/or heel reconstruction with Equilox. Equilox is a quite expensive but positive method of treatment.

I am attaching two pictures that show a drop-down egg bar shoe applied to a horse's foot. In the illustrated instance the shoe has been applied to the front foot of a horse that has suffered strained Suspensory ligaments also complicated by bowed tendons. The basic principle of this shoe is to lift and support the posterior regions of the foot and leg. As you can see in the pictures, the extension of the shoe goes beyond the bulbs of the foot.

I am very interested in your 15 year old dressage horse because of my previous successes with this shoe. Please e-mail me your results at the end of two shoeings.

After the shoe is applied you should measure from the coronary band (hairline) to the bearing surface of the shoe and record said measurements about every two weeks. The bearing surface of the shoe is the portion of the shoe that the horse stands on. The ground surface of the shoe is that portion of the shoe that rests on the ground.

By the time you are ready for the 3rd shoeing you should be e-mailing me that you have at least an inch of vertical heel growth.


Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.