Q. I am concerned that a pony I recently purchased is suffering from a condition I believe is referred to as broken back axis, that more pressure is borne through the posterior part of the foot, resulting in compressed collapsed heels, with increased risk of bruised heels. She is about five years old and has a four-month-old foal on her that is apparently by a thoroughbred horse. She has quite large feet for a 13.2hh pony and still has a very large stomach because of the pregnancy. What is the best plan to help balance her feet etc, should we take a lot of toe off and it will slowly correct itself?
A: I’m glad you’re concerned and keen to do the best for the pony. What you describe is a very common problem in New Zealand horses and ponies and one that is often not taken seriously enough. A broken back axis with collapsed heels will as you suggest radically increase the risk of bruised heels but may also encourage navicular problems, corns and a number of other lameness issues.
The size of the hoof (which you describe as being relatively large for the size of pony) may also be contributing to the problem – a larger hoof putting further force on the posterior part of the hoof causing compression of the horn tubules and in turn, collapsed heels.
Making improvements and reducing the risk of lameness complications will take some careful management but there are usually some positive improvements to be achieved if done correctly. It’s unlikely that the problem will slowly correct itself without some structured intervention.
Your own farrier and vet need to agree on a treatment plan based on what is most suitable for your pony but this might include some or all of the information below which is based on my own experience with these types of cases.
The relationship of the toe and heel should not be underestimated – a long toe will almost always encourage the heels to collapse. And a collapsed heel will often allow the toe to flare forwards and become excessively long.
The heels need to be carefully trimmed back to healthy hoof – with the horn tubules upright and not bent over. Allowing the heels to remain crushed and bent over will only result in further damage so getting back to upright heel is one of the first steps towards improvement.
On the ground surface, trimming the excess toe away and just as importantly, addressing any flaring at the toe area and quarters will be equally important in the initial stages.
If fitting a shoe, the heels should be well supported and the toe backed up suitably short. When doing this and also if removing any flares, great care needs to be taken that too much hoof wall isn’t removed thus compromising the integrity and strength of the wall – which will likely result in making the problem worse rather than better. When shoeing, it’s common place to leave a certain amount of toe overhanging the shoe at the front of the foot rather than rasping it away.
Some improvements can be made initially but depending on the severity of the problem, a number of farrier visits may be needed before most of the improvements are realised. It’s vital that the farrier attends regularly to avoid the toes becoming overgrown, the heels collapsed and back to the same situation again. Depending on your pony, it might be necessary for 3-5 weekly appointments to start with but your own farrier will advise as to what they think is best.
Good luck and hope you achieve a positive outcome!
David Hankin Dip.WCF
This question and answer was originally printed in NZ Horse & Pony magazine, July 2010.