Q I have a gelding with low heels. My farrier boosted his heels with wedge pads for years. I’ve moved to a new area, though, and as I search for a new farrier, I find some don’t believe wedge pads benefit low heels and can actually inhibit proper heel growth. What are the latest farrier teaching methods for low heels?
CAROL PRENTIN, Texas
A This is difficult to answer specifically without being able to see the horse in question. I’ll give a more general answer, but be aware your horse may be an exception to the rule.
When a horse has sloping, collapsed, or underrun heels (all names for the same problem), there’s often more than enough heel growth. The problem is the heel tubules (inner hoof-horn structures) are growing forward instead of down toward the ground, creating a hoof without adequate support (see box).
Many of these feet will also have coronary-band displacement (an upward curvature of the coronary band at the quarter area, on the inside of the leg); this enables the papillae that produce the tubules to become oriented incorrectly. A lot of inexperienced farriers may not recognize this problem, trying to fix it by not trimming the bent tubules. They may also make the problem worse by shoeing with length in the shoe, with an egg-bar, or even with a wedge pad. All of these can create a situation where the horse feels slightly more comfortable because of the angle of the foot, but in reality the problem is made worse because of the forces being directed to a weakened area of the foot.
How Is a Hoof Like a Pillar?In underrun or collapsed heels, the heel tubules creating the hoof grow forward instead of downward. This means they’re not in the correct position to properly support the foot. Imagine a pillar on your porch that’s set at an angle. It would have to be longer than an upright pillar to get from the roof to the ground, and the angled position would actually make it weaker and prone to collapsing.
I often shoe these horses with a heart-bar shoe. This recruits the frog to take some of the weight off the bent tubules of the heel. I also use a pour-in pad that additionally recruits the sole, seat of corn, bars, and commissures for some of the weight bearing. Finally, I will float the heels (leave a gap between the shoe and the foot), which takes the damaged hoof wall completely out of weight bearing for a short time. This allows the bent horn to reorient, the coronary band to straighten, and the heels eventually to hit the ground in the proper place for that foot.
There are a couple of challenges with this solution. One is that you must have a farrier with enough skill to make and use a heart-bar correctly. The heart-bar sometimes gets blamed for causing problems, when the issues typically are with the application, not the shoe. Another concern is that some horses don’t like frog pressure, especially those with navicular pain. If that’s your horse’s case, then this isn’t a good solution for him. Finally, there’s added weight with the heart-bar and pour-in that can be a problem for horses used in speed events, such as barrel racing.
Ideally, find a great farrier who’s able to evaluate your horse as an individual and think outside the box when needed. While my suggestions aren’t the only way to fix the problem, they would be my generic, go-to solution. Best of luck, and learn as much anatomy as you can to make yourself a better horse owner or farrier.
CHRIS GREGORY, CJF, FWCF, ASF
Heartland Horseshoeing School