Contracted Heels

Wow, this morning was rough - 98 degrees F with a real feel of 105 degree F, coupled  with 80+% humidity and no breeze, no air movement hardly at all; just my extreme panting while I got a couple of horses trimmed up is the only ‘wind’ there was. Thankfully, the horses were extraordinarily cooperative and this old woman didn’t have to struggle with fighting critters. 

However, the heat and humidity did me in.

 

As I write, now, I sit in my air conditioned office with the overhead fans on high.  Admittedly, working in my home office is much more comfortable than outside at this point in time. I think I’ll be here for awhile.

So, today, I wondered what topic of horses’ hooves might be of further interest to y’all … and I decided on contracted heels.

 

The horses I worked on today no longer have contracted heels. However, when I pulled off their shoes about 3 months ago, they had very low toes, low and very contracted heels. Not a surprise at all to me as I have found this condition common in shod horses.
           
Photos courtesy of balanced-step.com

 Initially, all I did was to bring the toes back as much as I could without causing the horses to be sore. I didn’t touch the heels at all; just beveled the walls from quarter to quarter at 45* and hoped that the horses would move enough on semi-dry terrain so as to cause more expansion to the hooves during loading.

By the 2nd trim, the hooves still did not need the heels to be touched except to lower the longer heel (higher heel) to the same height as the lower one. Then I beveled the heels from the seat of corn back and down to the widest part of the frog. I also brought back the toes again to a reasonably ‘normal’ length, beveled the walls at 45* again and turned ‘em back out.

Today, no one had contracted heels; everyone HAD heels that needed to be trimmed a bit, the frogs were rid of their nasty, thrushy, yeasty condition and needed no trimming … and the toes needed a bit of taking back. The horses had done a nice job of maintaining their own hooves since the last trim.


Photo of excellent trim and care by PENZANCE graduate

 

Aside from the weather, the trim was a breeze. (no pun intended here)

So what ARE contracted heels? Well, take a good look at the top two photos. 

Simply put, contracted heels are characterized by a shift in the hoof wall that results in the narrowing of the foot.  

The causes can be one of any number of reasons from LTLH (Long toe Low Heel) to unbalanced hooves to overgrown hooves in general. Other factors may be at play such as lameness and hoof atrophy caused by non-use of the limb.

Contracted heels cause a crack or crevice in the central sulcus and between the heels bulbs which generally results in providing a perfect harbor for thrush and yeast infections.

Contracted heels also cause a large deficit in the shock absorbing mechanism of the hooves resulting from atrophy of the frog and under-stimulation of the digital cushion.

Other affects from contracted heels involve the excess tension on the deep digital flexor tendon causing contraction of the deep digital flexor muscle which also lessens the weight distribution to the heels.

Contracted heels are not just a ‘simple’ hoof insult and can easily be prevented with proper hoofcare and trimming.

How to remediate contracted hooves? 

Regular trimming every 3 – 4 weeks to keep a good hoof angle and to keep the toes trimmed back for an adequate break-over and ensuring proper balancing of the hoof is crucial to successful correction of contracted heels. Meanwhile, in between trimming, it is up to the owner to ensure the horse gets plenty of movement on firm ground to help the hooves expand as much as they can. As the hoof functions more and more in a healthy manner, the heels will begin to de-contract, allowing the crevice between the bulbs of the heels to open up. Regular treatment for thrush and yeast should be tended on a daily basis and the infected frog tissues trimmed until healthy tissue is formed.

So, that’s my post for today. As always, questions can be directed in the comments below or feel free to email to me:  gwen.santagate@gmail.com

You're also invited to browse through my hoofcare website, PENZANCE Natural Hoofcare.  I think you'll like what you see there. 

I’d love to talk with you!

 

 

 

Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf

 

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