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What is Club Foot?

Some foals are born with a club foot and may be unable to stand up to nurse. This requires prompt intervention from your veterinarian specialist who will be able to provide pain relief and splints or casts to help relax the tendons that are part of the cause. The younger the animal and the earlier the intervention, the better. Surgery may be required to correct the hoof to obtain a positive outcome for your young foal.

Club foot often affects the forelimbs in most cases, whereby the hoof has a deformed shape, making walking difficult or painful.

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Symptoms of Club Foot in Horses

  • Lameness
  • Pain
  • Excess toe wear
  • Shortening of the tendon that is attached to the coffin bone
  • Impacts the standing or movement of your young horse
  • It can affect one or both limbs usually in the fore limbs
  • Coronary band may bulge as the deformity progresses 
  • Dish shaped hoof wall (usually in more severe cases)


  • There are two types of club foot
  • Congenital flexural deformities are conditions that the foal is born with
  • Acquired flexural deformities typically develop 2-8 months after birth
  • Often referred to in grades
  • Grade 1 is 3-5 degrees greater than the opposing foot
  • This is the milder case of club foot
  • Grade 2 has a hoof angle of 5-8 degrees greater, and the heel will not touch the ground when trimmed to normal length
  • Grade 3 club foot has an anterior hoof wall described as dished with the heel twice as wide as the toe
  • Grade 4 exhibits a heavily dished hoof wall with an angle of 80 degrees or more

Causes of Club Foot in Horses

  • The deep flexor tendon is shorter than the bones causing a pulling on the coffin bone in the hoof which causes a deformity in the shape of the hoof
  • Congenital deformity at birth (occurring within the mare’s uterus) likely due to multiple factors 
  • Acquired flexural deformity (club foot develops after birth) whereby the bone grows at a faster rate than the tendon 
  • Rapid growth can be a cause of the acquired deformity due to heavily lactating mares, or excessive supplements with concentrates 
  • Mechanical imbalances within the nerves or muscle cellular area 
  • Contracted tendons

Diagnosis of Club Foot in Horses

Observation is the most efficient method of diagnosis whereby the constant checking of your newborn foal’s hooves would be advisable. Birth deformities are usually easy to notice, especially if your foal has difficulty standing to nurse. But this condition can happen quickly during the period of 2 to 8 weeks or so, starting by excessive toe wear to begin with.  Afterword, you might notice the coronary band starting to bulge. At this stage, your foal may have difficulty touching his heel to the ground. 

The earlier the treatment the better; catching the condition before it gets out of hand and becomes a major issue may avoid the need for surgery. Rapid growth occurs in the first year of your foal’s life, and this is the critical time where observation must be maintained. If you see your foal starting to stand awkwardly or favoring one foot when standing, then an immediate check may reveal the beginning of the hoof deformity.

Calling your veterinarian as soon as you notice any deformity or difficulty is essential in order to enable quick treatment that has an excellent prognosis for your young friend. The trained eye of your veterinarian will be able to distinguish problems in the hoof such as ridges on the hoof, abnormality of tissue structure, and recession of the frog. The veterinarian may suggest a joint consultation with your farrier to try a trimming and maintenance approach for solving the problem.

Treatment of Club Foot in Horses

Treatment begins with the diet. Changing the formula to ensure a slow but steady growth is advisable. Reducing the mother’s (the mare) diet from high starch and sugar rich cereal grains and eliminating unnecessary supplements will help. Good quality grass hay rather than alfalfa is an advisable change. For a foal with congenital flexural deformity your veterinarian may administer oxytetracycline, which will be done intravenously and is an antibiotic that can stimulate tendon laxity. Your specialist will monitor the effects before and after treatment. Other methods such as bandaging the area can cause the soft tissue in the affected area to relax. A well-padded bandage with pressure evenly applied is best. 

Acquired flexural deformities see accelerated heel growth. The veterinarian may consult with an  experienced farrier to have him trim your foal’s heel often (every 2-3 weeks) to correct this. Your veterinarian may suggest toe extensions or elevating the toe to stretch the soft tissue in the back of the leg. For serious cases, surgery performing a ligament desmotomy might be done. This procedure requires the veterinarian to transect the ligament, removing the tension and allowing the hoof to stretch. Good results have been achieved using all of the treatment methods and can be used in select cases if your horse is more mature.

Recovery of Club Foot in Horses

Rest and recovery time are needed to allow the hoof to regain the full flexibility. If your foal is in pain, then medication should be administered in line with your veterinarian’s advice. Gentle exercise at first, under the specialist’s advice, is recommended before turning out to a grassy paddock. Care with diet and aiming for slow steady growth will enable your foal to grow into its full potential. If your foal’s limb is strapped or bandaged, regular changes will assist the healing.

Careful farriering to maintain your foal’s hooves will greatly help to correct the condition. After surgery, the first six weeks are critical to healing. Care and patience are required during this time to allow the ligament to heal and strengthen. Rest and limited, gentle exercise is best, and observation and monitoring the limb will ensure a rapid recovery and allow your foal to grow into a strong healthy horse.

Club Foot Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Quarter Horse
9 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Discomfort weight bearing on right

Medication Used

none at this time

My horse was x-rayed in the front and she was diagnosed as having club feet in the front, and perhaps the rear. One of her ear feel turns out while standing square. I was told that as she ages into her mid teens, her coffin bone would cause pain and she would then need to be put down. She is 9-10 now. I use her for team roping. I would like to know what more to expect as she ages, can I continue to use her for roping, and is there any corrective shoeing for her.

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Quarter horse Thoroughbred
17-20 years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Tendon swelling
One hoof is higher than the other

Hello! My problem is that i'm not sure if my horse a clubfoot or not. Her one hoof is higher up than the other. Th higher one is on her front left and I forget what leg it is but one of her front leg tendons is swollen. I'm just not sure if it's clubfoot or not because she's 17-20 years old and all that i'm reading is about foals. I was wondering what the best and cheapest treatment would be and also what exactly is wrong with her. I don't shoe her or do anything special with her, just ride around. I'm worried because her tendon has been swollen for quite some time and I hasn't done any drastic thing, it just kind of appeared. If it is clubfoot, is the clubfoot causing the swelling? And when I got her, her hoof was still higher than the other but it was worse than it is now. Thank you in advanced!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
If Minyana isn’t shod then her hoofs wouldn’t be trimmed and there is the possibility that one hoof has grown more than the other; if this occurs it can cause stress on tendons and joint which should be seen by your Veterinarian to determine exactly what is going on. Sometimes these issues can be corrected with hoof trimming or corrective shoeing but without examining Minyana I cannot say for sure. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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