Trimming Hooves for Heel Height and Vertical Toe

Well, that sounds weird -- trimming hooves for heel height. One would think, well, if you keep on trimming the heels they never get the chance to grow!  But yes, there is a way to trim the hooves that will encourage more heel to grow and also bring about a more vertical toe, greater concavity, thicker walls and overall healthier and strong hooves.

Many times we see a long toe and low heels.

This puts the hooves, many times, with the coronary band right down on the ground during hoof loading and directly correlates to flat and thin soles. When I see all that I know that the hoof is pretty well collapsed and the horse is pretty uncomfortable - especially on hard ground and rocks. This condition also affects the entire body of the horse and its way of going; it doesn't just affect the hooves. The horse will try to compensate for the discomfort and as a result will then begin to hold movement patterns and spasm muscles to hold position again pain. This will cause behavioral issues as the horse tries to please but cannot do what is being asked because of the pain in his hooves.

Figure A is correct alignment of the hoof to pastern as well as heel height and toe length.

The natural hoof of the is meant for the horse's #1 survival tactic. Without healthy, functional hooves, the natural feral/wild horse will end up being a predator's meal. Our domesticated horses don't necessarily have to deal with predators as such however, I have to wonder how many horses have met an early demise due to a hoof condition that can be reversed and corrected.

It's not a pleasant thought.

Now, a hoof with long toes, low heels and flat, thin sole will not be well cushioned against the heavy loading of the hoof. A hoof that has healthy concavity will have a thick sole that is protective of the coffin bone when the foot is loaded. When there is little to no protection, the foot suffers with bruising, inflammation and even degeneration and deterioration of the coffin bone as the hoof expands upon loading.

In the feral horse it's been observed that the coffin bone is actually suspended quite high in the hoof capsule which provides a good, protective cushion underneath the coffin bone in the foot. The thin soled hoof will have little suspension of the coffin bone and the bone will be very near to the ground with every step with little protection against loading pressure. It is important to remember, though, that not every feral or wild hoof is like the other. Hooves are very adaptable to their environment ... dry, rocky, sandy, wet, damp, grassy ... all environments will impact the equine hoof in some manner. So, not all mustang hooves are the same BUT will all be well protected from the environment with thick walls, soles, good vertical height to the hoof wall/capsule and good, solid heels that are well equipped to withstand a solid, heel-first landing of the hoof.

Below shows the xray of a wild horse's hoof from Jaime Jackson:

and now the xray of a 3 year old mustang:

You can see that the mustang hoof on the bottom is showing more sole thickness than the cadaver hoof from Jaime Jackson. Overall, though, it is similar.

Here the toe height from the hairline down to the ground is noted:

You can see that the vertical height (green) is about equal to the length of the hoofwall from the hairline down the wall to the distal edge of the wall at the toe. In the long toed hoof the vertical height of the hoof will be less than the toe length itself.

I haven't mentioned the pressure and damages that are done to the navicular bone that becomes crushed, the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon which becomes over-flexed, the other abnormal pressures and flexes of the other ligaments and tendons in the lower leg -- all at risk from long toes and low heels.

So, what's the fix to all this?

It's really quite simple and, depending upon the severity of the condition, may take months to a full year of hoof regrowth in order to be corrected.

Basically one needs to keep the heels comfortable (do not trim if not needed to balance), trim the toes back and add a mustang roll/bevel at least from 10 o'clock around to 2 o'clock if not the entire hoofwall. Long toes are actually flares of the toes. As they grow longer they pull the hoof capsule forward and stretch the sole causing it to thin. This cause the flat foot which, in turn, equals less concavity.  So treat the toes as flares and bevel or roll the walls.

If the heels are imbalanced only bring the taller heel down to balance with the other heel IF there is actually enough heel to do so. If not, let it grow at least a month and then trim the taller heel down to the height of the shorter heel.

Leave the bars alone unless they are protruding higher than the wall causing them to hit the ground first before the rest of the hoof. Merely skim them down a bit.

After a few trims one may need to slightly bring the heel platform back a bit with one or two light swipes with the rasp but other than that, leave the heels alone until you have at least 1" of depth of the collateral groove under the seat of corn (where the heel "V's" into the bar.

I think you'll notice greater comfort of your horse if you pay heed to this situation and do not overtrim the hooves.

Remember -- the hooves NEED HEELS!  So if the heels of the hoof have been repeatedly trimmed back and down to the widest part of the frog they are on their way to being non-existent. Let the heels grow. Keep the toes shortened.

Here are a couple of photos to use for comparing your own horse's hooves with those with some good solid toes and heels:



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Gwen Santagate is the author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" . 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 keeps a small herd of her own equines and continues to offer consults for horses in need.