A Heel-First Landing vs. A Toe-First Landing Part 3
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 third 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 outlines why a horse may adapt a toe-first landing and why it is so unhealthy for your horse. 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’.
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…
Why do Horse Land Toe-First?
“A horse always wants to land heel-first as all the suspension in the hooves is in the rear 1/3 of the hoof. If for numerous reasons a horse gets heel pain, then the horse [will] want to land toe-first where there is no suspension to avoid landing on the heels. This throws the whole skeletal structure out of balance as a result” Dave Macdonald, former farrier, co-founder and designer of Scoot Boot.
A horse’s front feet are designed to land heel-first, and as Dave noted, a horse will always want to land heel-first, unless they develop heel pain, have a delayed breakover or wear metal shoes.
The most common reason for heel pain is either through weight-bearing bars, incorrect heel form (underrun heels) or a combination of both.
The location of the horse’s breakover can also determine a heel-first or toe-first landing. A breakover is the moment when the hoof rolls forward onto the tip of the toe to push forward at the end of a stride. You can identify the breakover as a position across the toe, which indicates where the hoof can tip forward and propel itself.
If the toe is long and flared, the breakover will be delayed and extra forces will be applied to the tendons and sensitive structures.
“In most domestic horses, especially those that have been shod for a long time, the horse will deliberately land toe-first to avoid concussion on the undeveloped digital cushion. The heel should be left 1/8 inch to, in some cases, up to 1/2 inch (2 to 12 mm) longer than the sole in the seat of corn (after any chalky sole material is scraped away), to give some protection to the digital cushion while still allowing frog contact with the ground. Generally, the horse will let you know, by increased or decreased lameness, whether you have trimmed the heel to just the length he needs” (Smith, M., n.d.)
As stated as above, horses who have been shod for long periods have an undeveloped digital cushion and lack of frog to ground contact, thus encouraging a toe-first landing to prevent contact with these parts of the hoof due to caudal heel pain.
Former Farrier & Scoot Boot Co-Founder & Designer, Dave Macdonald, on Caudal Heel Pain
What are the Impacts of a Toe-First Landing?
After a horse begins to land toe-first, the structures in the back of the hoof, which were designed for a heel landing, are no longer used and will atrophy. As these structures are used less and less, they will become less able to absorb the forces placed on them during a heel-first landing, thus the horse develops further caudal heel pain. The horse will avoid this pain and will compensate by further continuing to land toe-first, which worsens the caudal heel pain and increases the damaging consequences. One of these consequences is shortening the horse’s stride which then also seriously compromises the entire skeletal structure of the horse.
A toe-first landing can have damaging effects on the hoof, the lower limbs and the overall health of the horse. Toe-first landings can lead to excessive wear of the toes, separation of the laminae, thin soles, joint problems, contracted heels, vertical descent of the coffin bones, ligament and tendon damage, back problems and more!
During a toe-first landing, the suspensory ligaments in the lower leg are placed under pressure, which over time causes serious soundness issues. Also, changes to the navicular bone can result and lead to navicular disease or navicular syndrome, which can be an uncomfortable, and painful condition. For more information about navicular, please visit our ‘What Can We Do About Navicular? Can Barefoot Rehab Really Help?’.
(Horse Journals, 2011)
Contracted heels can also and most probably will result in toe-first landings.
(Balanced Step, n.d.)
Not only do the structures on the caudal area of the hoof atrophy, but they also grow quicker, causing awkward angles of the hoof which affects the joints, ligaments and tendons and wears the hoof unevenly, unbalancing the hooves.
What About a Flat-Footed Landing?
Horses can also have a flat-footed landing. This is when the horse brings its hoof down parallel to the ground.
A flat-footed landing means the concussive forces are only partly dissipated and absorbed by the caudal area of the hoof, meaning part of the shock is absorbed by the bones, tendons and ligaments of the lower limbs, which are not designed for this.
Whilst a flat-footed landing is healthier than a toe-first landing, a heel-first landing is still the preferred movement for horses.
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