TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT
The best course of action for a horse with one or more club feet depends on his age, the cause of the condition and the severity of the case. “The goals are generally the same in managing these feet, at any stage of development, and any stage of severity,” says Goodness. “The main goal is to try to achieve alignment of the phalanges [pastern bones
With a mature horse, the first step to consider is whether intervention is even needed. If a horse with mild club foot is sound, comfortable and able to perform the work asked of him, it might be better to not
try to change it.
and coffin bone] as close to normal as possible in the respective joints [pastern joint, coffin joint] without causing any further hoof capsule distortion.”
Veterinarians and farriers may take a number of aggressive actions with foals and young horses who are still growing (see “Club Foot in Foals,” page 76). With a mature horse, the first step is to consider whether intervention is even needed. Trimming to lower the heel might seem like an obvious solution. However, if a mild club foot has been there throughout a horse’s adult life, and he is sound, comfortable and able to perform the work asked of him, then it might be better to not try to change it. “We need to get away from the idea that the feet should match perfectly---or trying to force them to match or have the ideal angle,” says Burns. “You can’t simply remove the heel to make it look normal or you may make the horse lame or crippled.”
Nelson agrees: “Trying to lower the heels and put an extended toe on the foot will cause more problems. It causes the coffin bone to start rotating within the hoof capsule, because you are fighting the pull of the deep digital flexor tendon, and it is stronger than the laminar bond between the coffin bone and the hoof capsule. You cannot correct it mechanically by trimming the foot; it simply makes it worse.”
But that doesn’t mean the horse’s feet do not require attentive care. He may need to be trimmed more frequently than normal to keep his feet balanced. “If the hoof is growing a lot more heel than toe, there’s a problem,” Burns says. “The opposite foot will tend to grow a lot more toe than heel, and that in itself is a problem, so frequent trimming can keep them from becoming too mismatched with an uneven stride. It is important to keep the hoof capsule as healthy as possible.”
Also, says Burns, “Having the upright heel predisposes the hoof to more risk for shoe loss so we need to pay careful attention to where breakover is and where the shoe is placed on the upright foot. The shoe should not be pushed out beyond the perimeter of the upright hoof, even though that’s still a very common practice. Glue-on shoes can be a good alternative for upright feet; this eliminates some of the shoe loss.”
If, however, a club foot is a recent development in a mature horse, especially
if he is also unsound or exhibiting changes in behavior, then have him examined by a veterinarian to look for signs of pain or stiffness throughout his body. Injuries, muscle soreness, arthritis and other problems in the neck, shoulders, back and other parts of the body can alter a horse’s way of going enough to affect his feet, and no intervention with the hoof will help if the underlying cause is not addressed.
Attempting to reduce the height of a clubbed foot---to help a horse who is unsound or has an uncomfortable, uneven gait---must be done carefully Your farrier will need to develop a strategy targeted toward your horse’s specific needs.
“You have to address each one case by case,” says Pownall. “If you have a broad rule or method that you apply to all horses, it may work on some but it won’t work on others. You need to be open to many methods, and creative, and try to understand what caused this club foot. Having x-rays can be helpful, to determine sole thickness and the shape of the coffin bone and whether there is any rotation. Sometimes you have to treat it like you would a foundered hoof. It’s important to find ways to make that horse more comfortable so he can move more freely.”
Your farrier will most likely recommend some sort of pads, wedges, pour-in packing or other methods to support the sole and coffin bone while slowly and carefully lowering the heels. He may suggest supporting the opposite foot as well. “It makes sense to protect the sole with a pad of some kind. You are pushing the hoof capsule around [changing the stresses on it], so you have to be careful as you do it,” says Goodness.
“Generally, we accomplish our goal by lowering the heels a bit but simultaneously easing tension on the deep flexor tendon by adjusting the point of breakover,” he adds. “We can do that by trimming and rolling the toe or with a shoe, using a rocker toe or rolled toe shoe---grinding the toe of the shoe away. There are several ways to adjust breakover. With those two strategies a person can often get the foot to the point where it functions better. It may not look exactly like the other hoof, but mechanically it can function more normally, and the horse will travel with a more even stride. Many horses improve and can go on to be successful in their careers.”
Aclub foot is a little more serious than just a conformation blemish, but doesn’t necessarily mean that a horse can’t participate in most equestrian activities. “There have been some tremendous athletes, with a good long career, managing very well with some degree of club footedness,” says Goodness. “When properly dealt with by the farrier, with continual management, these horses can continue on with the best of them.”