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Club Foot

Natural or man-made?


    Club feet. A club foot is one in which the dorsal wall angle (the toe) is steeper than normal, when compared to the other foot. Almost always, as with most other pathologies, it's most common in front feet, rather than hinds. While club feet may not be "rare", they are not usually natural. By that, I mean most club feet are man-made, rather than a true defect of nature.

    True club feet are defects in the skeleton of the horse. It would be congenital, and a true club foot has an odd, upright build, complete with high heels, but when the foot is looked at from a solar view, there isn't much trimming you can do to alter the foot without causing lameness. At least, I should say, it should be apparent that man can't improve on the condition, and that corrective trimming for these horses would cause pain and have other problems. Natural trimming will reveal mistakes, such as attempting to fix something that isn't broke, much quicker than when shod. If done too aggressively, the horse will be sore footed afterward.

   There is another form of "natural" club foot. The hoof is adaptable to it's current use, and when there is pain elsewhere in the body, the horse will move in a way to compensate to avoid such pain. This altered gait will affect how the hoof lands in stride, and will eventually remodel the hoof. This type of "club foot" is usually one-sided. It's "natural" in that the horse is creating the club foot because he needs it to be so. Saddle fit, poor riding, and old injuries can lead to this type of club foot, and trimming to correct this hoof, without fixing the original problem, will not get anywhere. As long as the horse continues to compensate, the hoof will remodel to the club, regardless of trimming or shoeing methods. To fight this would also cause severe and unnecessary pain for the horse.

   Finally, there is the most common, and most likely to be fixed type of "club foot". This is all man-made. Foals that don't get enough exercise or trimming never develop a healthy digital cushion. Soft turf and lack of wear generally creates a very upright foot by the time the foal is weaned. This is likely to lead to weak heals, and pain if the heels are trimmed short. The foot may also develop deep sulcus thrush, and become contracted. The upright foot may also come from the farrier's trimming.

    When excess heel is left behind, for whatever reason, the hoof becomes more imbalanced, and it can't wear properly. This also creates a sensitive heel area, and the horse begins to avoid landing on his heels. This exacerbates the toe first landings and taller heels. This type of club foot is possibly fixable, given that the trimming is altered, and the foot given a chance to develop slowly to avoid pain. Any infections MUST be treated, as well, to avoid sensitivity. To fix the club foot, the heels must be lowered slowly and balanced so the horse will begin to use the heels in landing. Then the horse must be exercised and fed a proper diet. Change in hooves is brought on in miles, not months. So a sedentary horse will grow out defects much, much slower than an active horse. For this reason, to fix any pathology, after the cause is addressed and the horse is made comfortable, it's imperative to get him moving, whether riding, longing or simple turnout.


With regards to "curing" a club foot, you MUST check the whole horse. Saddle fit, rider posture, even the bit can cause back or hock pain that will contribute to a clubby foot. Be aware of any thrush or other problems that would affect how your horse moves. Most man-made club feet can be helped, so some degree, but it takes an experienced eye to know how much can be fixed. Please don't hack your horses heels off and expect them to have an instant perfect foot. The foot has to be conditioned, just like a muscle, and it has to fit the needs of the horse. Please seek help when dealing with club feet.