A Heel-First Landing vs. A Toe-First Landing Part 4
Does a horse need to land heel-first? What makes a heel-first landing so much better than a toe-first landing?
This is our fourth and final blog of the 4 part Scoot Boot blog series which aims to educate horse owners about the damaging effects of a toe-first landing, not only for the health of the hoof but the overall health of the horse. This blog gives advice on a recovery from a toe-first landing using barefoot rehabilitation and hoof boots, such as Scoot Boots. To read our first part of the series, please go to our blog ‘The Importance of a Heel First Landing Part 1’. To read our second part of the series, please go to our blog ‘The Importance of a Heel First Landing Part 2'. To read our third part of the series, please go to our blog ‘The Importance of a Heel First Landing Part 3’.
Read through our 4 part Scoot Boot blog series to discover the benefits of a barefoot rehabilitation method to achieve a heel-first landing, just the way nature intended…
What can you do to Change to a Heel-First Landing?
If your horse is landing toe-first or flat-footed, you will need to change this to a heel-first landing to improve the health of your horse. This can be largely achieved by removing your horse’s shoes and transitioning your horse to barefoot. This will include regular, natural barefoot trims, in combination with the use of hoof boots, such as Scoot Boots.
Research has shown that with shoes, there is a greater peripheral landing of the hoof. The greater the peripheral loading, the blood circulation decreases in the hoof. Horses that have been shod long term have constantly had their hoof loading only on the peripheral wall. This means they will have thin, fatty, weak digital cushions. To reverse this and achieve a heel-first landing, the horse must be transitioned to barefoot.
As the hoof transitions from shoes, the digital cushion regenerates, the hoof capsule will regain strength and structural integrity, and the heels will decontract. Decontracting heels will increase blood flow throughout the hoof, allowing the caudal area of the hoof to regenerate, heal and strengthen, reducing inflammation and pain. Once this pain has lessened, the horse will be more comfortable and inclined to land heel-first.
A correctly trimmed hoof (right) compared to a unhealthy, poorly trimmed hoof (left) (Pintrest, 2020).
Decontracting the heels will also lessen the number of cracks, grooves and crevices that develop in the hoof wall, reducing the likelihood of bacterial infections such as thrush.
“It’s really about the horse getting a balanced proper barefoot trim and starting to use the heel rather than the toe once the pain is eliminated” Annette Kaitinis LLB LLM, co-founder of Scoot Boot.
Correct, natural barefoot trims are not only crucial to progressing to a heel-first landing, but also a must throughout a horse’s barefoot transition. A correct barefoot trim includes ensuring the hooves are balanced, as stated by Annette. This means that the hooves must be balanced from its toe to its heel.
The long toe must also be removed. This can be done through barefoot trims by backing up the toe to the correct proportion. Once the toe has been shortened, the horse can easily roll off the toe, lengthening the location of the breakover, and allowing the foreleg to swing far enough forward to land on the heel, creating a long-strided gait.
Former farrier and Scoot Boot co-founder & designer, Dave Macdonald, demonstrating a barefoot trim
Why is Barefoot the Better Option?
Allowing a horse to be barefoot means that you are keeping your horse the way nature intended. Not only is being barefoot the healthier and sound option, but it also increases the state of a horse’s hooves and your ability to ride your horse.
Taking shoes out of the pictures increases the circulation of blood throughout the hooves, which decreases the healing time for injuries, diseases, inflammations and infections in the hoof. This reduces the pain and sensitivity in your horse’s caudal area, allowing them to achieve that heel-first landing quicker.
A correct barefoot trim will restore the rear quarter of the hoof to the correct form. Without nailing shoes into the hoof wall every 6-8 weeks, the hoof wall is less likely to become brittle and cracked due to less concussion and increased circulation, making the hooves less sensitive and stronger, and decreasing the chance of developing a bacterial infection in the cracks of the hoof wall.
Without shoes, the frog and specific areas of the sole and wall can have maximum contact with the ground, allowing the frog to absorb more concussive forces and reduce the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons in the lower limbs from absorbing all of these forces.
Without shoes, a horse can also feel the various ground textures they travel over, they can evenly wear their hooves on abrasive surfaces, such as sand, and gain better traction on slippery surfaces.
However, once shoes are removed, the horse may be sensitive and footsore, requiring extra protection from hoof boots.
In a 2005 study, Dyson et al researched a barefoot rehabilitation program at Rockley Farm on horses diagnosed with lesions to the DDFT or damage to the navicular bone of the distal interphalangeal joint. Before the study, the forty-four horses involved displayed toe-first landings and were giving extremely poor prognosis, with 95% of horses failing to return to full work. Their research question asked, “can the rehabilitation program deliver a significant improvement on the previously poor prognosis for horses with these two types of lameness?” (Dyson et al., 2005 retrieved from Barker, 2013).
The rehabilitation program was carried out at Rockley Farm, who indicated they had experience with achieving significant improvements in the soundness of horses after using their rehabilitation program.
The rehabilitation program required all shoes to be removed, the horses to be kept on supportive surfaces to maximise comfort levels, encourage movement only on surfaces where they can move soundly and low fructans, high mineral diet.
The results included:
“Forty-four horses (aged 5-19yrs) were enrolled with 35 programmes completed and 9 still ongoing. Of the 35 horses who completed, 30 have since been maintained at the same level of work or higher than before their diagnosis, 4 improved but did not return to full work, 1 had rehab interrupted by colic surgery and is in light work. Improvements in palmar hoof development occurred relatively rapidly, with most horses’ landing changing from toe-first to heel-first within 2-6 weeks. Soundness on hard surfaces and on circles typically improved once this landing was established and palmar hoof development also improved with exercise on varied surfaces once horses were landing correctly” (Dyson et al., 2005 retrieved from Barker, 2013)
Dyson et al (2005) concluded that horses who suffer lameness from palmar foot pain may highly benefit from therapeutic rehabilitation which improves palmar hoof strength and mediolateral hoof balance, increasing a heel-first landing scenario.
How do Scoot Boots Help?
“Using boots encourages the horse to land heel first by way of shock absorption while a competent trimmer corrects the issue causing the heel pain” Dave Macdonald, former farrier, co-founder and designer of Scoot Boot.
Scoot Boots are a fabulous rehabbing boot, they are a great tool to increase confidence for a horse whilst working or lunging. They are made out of thermoplastic urethane (TPU). This material has high abrasive and shock absorbing qualities, which help absorb the concussive forces felt by the hoof, relieving the caudal area from absorbing all these forces whilst still strengthening. Scoot Boots should be used in collaboration with a barefoot trimmer or farrier who works to correct the problems causing the pain through natural trimming.
“Scoots [Boots] will assist because it will relieve any type of pain and concussion the horse otherwise might have without them” Annette Kaitinis LLB LLM, co-founder of Scoot Boot.
Scoot Boots offer protection to improve the confidence of the horse, increasing the chance of a heel-first landing as mother nature intended. If a horse suffers large amounts of caudal heel pain and is extra sensitive, therapeutic Scoot Pads can also be used to provide extra protection and create a soft surface for the horse’s hoof.
Building a Barefoot Community
The team at Scoot Boot believe passionately in the barefoot horse and strive to build a supportive community of barefoot horse lovers. We aim to share everything we know about going barefoot and are eager to hear your barefoot success stories. Please reach out to us!
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Barker, N., 2013. Rockley Farm. [Blog] Research, Facts, Evidence and Reasons for Blogging, Available at: <https://rockleyfarm.blogspot.com/2013/08/research-facts-evidence-and-reasons-for.html> [Accessed 2 July 2020].
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