Horse is standing under himself

Q: Hi David. I have noticed that my horse is standing under himself with his front legs, very noticeably since I changed farrier about eight months ago. He also seems to stumble more. The main difference that I can see in the way he is being shod/trimmed is that the feet are being set back a lot further. Could this be a contributing factor?
Lucy, Auckland

A: Hi Lucy. Changing the style of shoeing may have had an effect on how your horse is standing and also performing. If your horse is standing under himself more then this is probably contributing to his stumbling too.

Altering the toe and/or heel height can have an impact on how the horse stands and performs. For example, leaving more heel on a foot will encourage a horse to stand with the foot slightly further back under the body than a foot with lowered heels. Altering heel height can therefore either improve posture or make it worse.

If the foot is further back on the ground at rest then this will have affect how the horse uses energy to move the limb and foot forwards to get off the ground. The change to the timing and energy can cause the horse to stumble (and sometimes other problems too).

The toe height and angle are directly related to that of the heel so altering the toe can have similar although opposing results on this problem – for example, increasing length/angle at the toe can cause the horse to stand slightly forwards.

The placement of shoes will also impact on the scenario and this might be relevant to your horse. Even if the heel/toe length are set and the horse stands underneath himself suitably without shoes, fitting the shoes back underneath the toe will have a similar impact as having more heel on the foot. Similarly, extending the shoes at the heel can have a similar effect as lowering the heels.

In most cases, the horse should stand with the front feet underneath so the cannon bones are perpendicular to the ground.  A deviation from this can exacerbate numerous problems including stumbling.

Balancing the hooves with a suitable length/angle at the toe and heel and then the appropriate placement of the shoes should encourage the horse to stand up correctly and improve the movement. Setting shoes underneath the toe is a common practice and can be very useful for some horses but overall balance – including the placement of shoes should always be a priority.

I recommend you discuss this with your farrier, I expect if you bring it to his attention, he’ll be able to make some improvement to the stumbling problem and posture of the horse.

David Hankin Dip.WCF

this question and answer first appeared in NZ Horse & Pony magazine May 2011