What is Contracted Heels ?
Contracted heels are so common in horses many people begin to believe it is normal. However, it is definitely not normal and it should be addressed as soon as possible. Symptoms can include contraction of the entire hoof, concave sole, and compressed heel bulbs to name a few. It can be diagnosed by its appearance alone and can develop as a primary issue or as a secondary case of lameness. This condition is typically caused by lack of exercise and improper hoof care. Treatment includes reshaping of the hoof to get the horse to use his heel again. Additional therapies such as use of a boot or pad may be needed for him to use his hoof properly. After a few sessions of trimming, you should begin to see a noticeable difference in the use of his hoof back and it should return to its proper shape.
Contracted heels in horses are one of the most common hoof-related issues they can be diagnosed with. If you notice your horse’s hoof is not quite right, contact your veterinarian so she can have a look at it.
Symptoms of Contracted Heels in Horses
Symptoms of a contracted heel may include:
- Entire hoof can be contracted
- The sole is concave
- Frog compressed
- Frog atrophy
- Heel bulb compressed
- Narrowing of the hoof’s entire back area
- Heels curve inward
- Base and heel bulb creates v-shaped pattern instead of a horizontal line
Contracted heels in horses sometimes are mistakenly called club foot. These are in fact two different conditions but have a lot in common and the result is similar. Cases of contracted heel can be primary or secondary. In primary cases, contracted heel is a result of unbalanced feet or overgrown hoofs. In secondary cases, contracted heels are caused by lameness and disuse of the limb leading to hoof atrophy.
Causes of Contracted Heels in Horses
Contracted heels can be caused by a number of things. Improper shoeing can be one cause of contracted heels, especially when combined with unsuitable ground. Untrimmed hooves or incorrectly trimmed hooves can be another cause. If the heel is too low and long and the toe is too long it can also lead to heel contraction.
Diagnosis of Contracted Heels in Horses
When diagnosing contracted heels in your horse, it is all about the appearance. In a healthy front hoof, it is typically round and symmetrical with a healthy oblong hind hoof. The frog is about 2/3 of the overall hoof length and over half the space of the back.
If your horse has a contracted heel, the hoof’s entire back area is narrow and appears longer than it is wide. When looking at it, the heels seem to be pinched toward each other while the heel bulbs and frog are compressed. In more severe cases, the heels sometimes curve inwards toward the bars. When looking at the hoof from behind, it looks as if the walls have been squeezed in a vice and the base and heel bulbs form a v-shaped pattern instead of a line.
Treatment of Contracted Heels in Horses
Treatment typically consists of trimming the hooves and rebalancing them. If your horse is shoed but is beginning to develop symptoms of contracted heels, remove his shoes. After removal, you will have to have your farrier trim his hooves so that he lands on his heels comfortably. Assisting heel expansion is also important when it comes to treatment. The key is to get your horse comfortable with using the back of his foot again. If the condition has been going on for a while, he may be resistant at first to use his hoof properly again. In some cases, the use of boots and pads may be helpful in getting him to use his hoof correctly.
Another important part of treatment is getting him to move. When your horse is not moving, his feet cannot pump the blood to keep it flowing. Without proper blood flow, it can lead to and worsen contracted heels. If the horse is unable to stretch it out and wear his hoofs naturally, contracted heels can be a result.
Recovery of Contracted Heels in Horses
After a few regular trimmings of your horse’s hooves, heel expansion should develop after several sessions and he should be able to use his hoof correctly again. As soon as you notice your horse may be experiencing issues with his hoof or leg, contact your veterinarian. Once it is diagnosed properly, either she or a farrier will be able to begin to reshape it. Contracted heels are very common in horses so many in the horse world know how to address it. To prevent it from reoccurring or from happening in the first place, make sure your horse gets plenty of exercise and sees a farrier on a regular basis.