Retracted Soles

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Wait!  What?  

What the heck are "retracted soles"? 

Daisy Alexis Bicking and Esco Buff explain it well --

"Retracted soles are when the sole retracts, or 'sucks up' into the arch of the coffin bone. Usually this happens to horses when they are in a wet or muddy environment. The external appearance of the foot will have good concavity (usually excessively good), and even sole/toe callusing. However the horse is often footsore with low grade pulses, sensitive to hoof testers and even manual palpation. These horses often get diagnosed with low grade laminitis and/or sub solar abscesses. As stated by Dr Buff in the AFJ article: “The appearance of the sole cannot be mistaken for any other sole issue. Instead of having a nice sole concavity, the sole appears to drop off from the white line. Retracted soles that get unnoticed by the farrier during trimming can result in over trimming of the hoof wall, causing the horse extreme pain due to sole pressure.” (Buff, E. 2012, Recognizing and Treating Retracted Soles, American Farriers Journal, Sept/Oct 2012)"

So, retracted soles are those that are seemingly sucked up into the foot. WHY do they happen?  

They happen to different types of hooves on different breeds in different conditions and, quite frankly, is a topic that is in need of alot more investigation and study. 

I've seen retracted soles on hooves that are NOT in muddy conditions; I've seen them on horses that wallow in the mud on a regular basis but still have someplace to dry out; I've seen them on all sizes, types and breeds of horses. 

Until I discovered Esco Buff's article on Retracted Soles, I had never heard of them. I just would see the ridge on the toe and figure the hoof needed to grow that for some reason. Sometimes I rasped it down a bit; sometimes I rockered the toe slightly  (most times) and sometimes I just left it alone.  The telling answer was always my gut ... what I felt and sensed the individual hoof could handle. 

Now that's really helpful, isn't it!  Mmmm, not so much, I'm sure. 

In all the 'cases', the ridge disappeared over time .. sometimes right away and sometimes took a couple of months.  

It all depended.  On what?  I couldn't tell you. 

Esco Buff attributes Retracted Soles to excessive mud. Hooves that are in mud much of the time. Daisy Bicking attributes them to various reasons but the 'verdict' is still out. 

In any case, it behooves the trimmer to be very cautious about trimming and really attempt to FEEL what the hooves are saying. Excessive trimming on hooves with retracted soles will, invariably, leave the horse sore if it already is not sore. 

Thin soles are usually always seen with retracted soles for one reason or another. Usually a close look a the trim will help ferret out the reason for thin soles. 

Getting the horse out of a muddy situation as soon as possible will help resolve the situation. 

The photo above, from Daisy Bicking, clearly shows a well developed 'retracted sole' ... see how there is a ridge right at the toe callus? The xrays of this hoof from Ms. Bicking shows, clearly, the 'ridge' of retracted soles: 

What I see in the xrays are thin soles. Especially right underneath the tip of the P3. We know that the sole is the thinnest at that point ... so it would behoove the trimmer to trim accordingly. The application of protective hoof boots may be warranted if the horse is lame. 

Ms. Bicking also states that this is not a quick fix. It may take 6 - 24 weeks for the hoof to grow out and eliminate the retracted sole.  Again, keeping the hooves out of excessive dampness and mud will help. Boots would help the sore-footed horse while simply trimming properly and seeing the sound horse to move may be the solution for the particular individual. 

A couple more photos from Esco Buff -- 

So, it is evident that much more study needs to be done on this condition. What I WILL say, definitively, is that diet surely plays into the equation along with movement and husbandry combined with trimming form and function. 

In other words, it's surely a "whole horse" thing ... 

So, if your horse is dealing with such a condition, talk it over with your trimmer, look at the diet to be sure it is 'species specific' (which with horses means all forages), how the form of the hooves are affecting their function and what in your husbandry practice might need to change. 


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:
Gwen also offer Home Study courses for those who wish to further their education on various aspects of the 'natural' horse (including Natural Hoofcare 101). Please go here:
 PENZANCE Equine Integrative Educational Center


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