What are Sheared Heels?
Your horse can have sheared heels on the forefeet or the hind feet. It is important to examine your horse’s hooves at least weekly for any changes in the coronary bands. You do not have to lift your horse’s legs in order to check for sheared hooves.
Sometimes, another condition is called sheared heels, but this is not the case. This other condition causes a cleft between the heels and can lead to thrush and lameness. Your veterinarian and your farrier will examine your horse make the proper diagnosis of sheared heels.
A sheared heel in horses is a displacement of the coronary band of the hoof. This causes the heel of the hoof to become pushed upward and outwards. When looking at an affected horse’s hooves from the rear, you will be able to see that the coronary band is not level; the line over the affected heel is higher than the normal heel.
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Symptoms of Sheared Heels in Horses
Anytime your horse’s foot health is in question, contact your veterinarian and your farrier for a full assessment. A quick diagnosis and treatment of the problem are essential to keeping your horse healthy and stable on their feet. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Limping or stilted walk
- Coronary bands not straight
- Narrowing of the foot
- Misshaped hoof
- Frog starts to atrophy
Causes of Sheared Heels in Horses
Researchers have found several causes for sheared heels. Those causes include:
Inappropriate shoeing and hoof trimming
This is considered to be the number one cause of sheared heels in horses. Inexperienced farriers can over-trim or under-trim a hoof or use the wrong shoes on your horse.
Gait correction techniques
Horses, like humans, have their own unique gait. Some owners, especially those within the horse show world, try to correct any imperfections within a horse’s gait. This can lead to sheared heels as the horse over-compensates when gait correction techniques are used.
A birth defect within the leg or foot of the horse can cause sheared heels.
Distal tarsitis or chronic lameness
Distorted hoof capsules can contribute to lameness as can continual disproportionate load carrying or increased stress on one heel of the foot.
Sheared heels in horses occur more often in Quarter Horses and Standardbreds, possibly due to the upright feet that are prevalent in the breed. Sport horses or horses used as jumpers, hunters, event or dressage horses are also at an increased risk of developing sheared heels.
Diagnosis of Sheared Heels in Horses
Your veterinarian and your farrier will most likely work together when diagnosing sheared heels. They will also work as a team when treating the condition once it has been diagnosed.
A physical assessment will be conducted. This will include watching how your horse moves, going over the legs and hooves thoroughly and discussing your horse’s daily activities. Your veterinarian and farrier will need to watch your horse move on a hard, level surface. They will need to watch your horse moving towards them and moving away from them.
A definitive diagnosis will be made by doing a hands on physical examination as well as viewing the horse in motion.
Treatment of Sheared Heels in Horses
Once sheared heels have been diagnosed, your veterinarian will consult with your farrier and set up a treatment plan that will work best for your horse.
The most conventional treatment for sheared heels is to trim the hoof and leave a gap between the sheared side of the hoof and the shoe. Then an egg bar shoe is put on to help the hoof land levelly when walking. Warm water soaks and poultices may also be applied to make the hoof wall pliable.
Extreme cases have had a leaf spring attached to the hoof to allow the sheared heel to grow out. A leaf spring is a spring that is made out of banded metal strips that are curved to the shape of the hoof. Once the hoof begins to grow into a more normal shape, a bar shoe is applied and frequent trimmings are recommended to prevent the problem from recurring.
Your veterinarian may recommend that the shoe on the affected hoof be removed and intensive soaking in warm water be done over several days. This will encourage the hoof to reshape into a more normal hoof. Once the hoof begins to reshape, a bar shoe can be applied.
Recovery of Sheared Heels in Horses
In extreme cases of sheared heels, your horse may take months to recover and the hoof grows out to where it is not bothersome. Your veterinarian and your farrier will work together during this time to ensure that your horse recovers from this condition.
Prevention is the most effective way to combat sheared heels. Keep your horse’s feet trimmed short and never allow the toes or heels to grow too long. Your farrier will suggest a recommended shoeing cycle and it is best to keep your horse on that recommended cycle.