Underslung Heels

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Q: I have a 9-year-old 15:3 hh TB mare, a lovely mover, with fairly decent feet and legs, but she is rather prone to underslung heels. She has been doing low-level dressage but is now beginning to jump small gymnastic combinations (under 2'9") in preparation for a try at low-level combined-training events this summer and fall.

When my farrier has tried letting the heels of her shoes extend back beyond the heel area for some additional support, the mare has pulled a shoe within 24 hours, leading him to try curving the extended shoe's branch back in toward the frog a bit.

Will this still be effective in supporting the back of the foot, and will this help keep the foot's heel structures from being crushed toward the front? Is there anything else you can recommend to protect the back section of the mare's feet from the pressure of gravity, especially with jumping in her future?


A: Your question seems like an easy one on the surface because you manage to ask it in 3 paragraphs. I would love to answer it in 3 paragraphs because it is 9:40 PM here in Oregon, but of course it can not be answered in 3 paragraphs. If I had your horse here in front of me where I could see her, I might be able to. Your question leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

I would have to ask... What is her shoulder angle and pastern angle? What is her hoof angle? More accurately, what is the heel angle and what is the toe angle? Also what is the length of toe and the length of heel? On all 4 feet? What kind of ground is this horse ridden on? What is the level of expertise of your farrier? Is your horse on a balanced diet? Are her nutritional mineral and vitamin requirements met? Is your level of riding skills to the point that you are balancing your horse when she is being ridden? When does she pull these shoes--when she is being ridden or when she is turned out? If she is pulling them when she is turned out, what kind of ground is she turned out on? What kind of fencing does her turn out have? Is she sticking her foot in fencing or gates and removing her shoes this way? If not, does she remove them at the walk, the trot or the canter, or jumping?

Have you read my "Lost Shoe Syndrome" on the web?

Nancy, we need to cut to the chase. First of all, I would like to recommend that you discuss your underslung (also called underrun) heels with your veterinarian. I would also suggest that you ask him to confer with your farrier and to take x-rays of these feet in an attempt to determine if the toe couldn't be backed up and the breakover point moved back, relieving the stress on the flexor tendons and the heel structures of your horse's feet. Be sure to have the vet palpate your horse's leg tendons--flexors and extensors. He should be looking for soreness or unsoundness. While your vet is examining your horse, be sure he checks for tooth problems. Many horses pull shoes due to tooth problems that cause them to hollow their neck and back and thus to move awkwardly.

You should also consider having an equine chiropractor examine your horse for problems. A lot of Thoroughbreds are plagued with problems that a chiropractor will be able to help.

Assuming all the above to be deemed correct--health, riding, conformation, farrier expertise, etc.--here is a shoeing prescription which should stop your horse from pulling shoes and help you grow a more natural heel on your horse's front feet.

I would suggest you shoe your horse's hind feet in rim shoes with plenty of heel support back to the bulbs and a boxed toe. Preferably 55 to 60 degrees toe angle. Shoe the front feet with rocker toed egg bar shoes with a set back breakover of an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half in front of the apex of the frog. There should be a vertical line dropped from the cleft of the bulbs to the ground--the back of the egg bars should hit that line. The horse should be reset every 5 weeks and accurate records kept on toe and heel angles. You also might consider feeding your horse double doses of biotin for the first 10 weeks. It has been found to be a speed grower for horses deficient in biotin. Keep your horse's feet dry.

Your problem is not an easy one to solve. My wife is twice Northwest Combined Champ (Area VII). Underslung heels is a common problem for jumpers and I am constantly being asked to deal with them on her horses. This shoeing prescription has given me the best results and that is why I am sending it to you.

Good luck. Please keep me informed of your progress.

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.