Thoroughbred feet

Q: Hi, I have a 4YO TB who has what my farrier calls “ski jump” front feet. He gets shod every 4-5 weeks and recently I asked him to take more toe off as they really just did not look right and he was always tripping over his own toes!

This has lead to a few problems over the last couple of shoeings; he went lame due to a stone bruise (just being an idiot on the gravel though!) and then for some unknown reason went sore in the other foot, with him being very tender around the frog/heel part of the hoof. This has come right now and he is fine.

He has also over the last four months been throwing shoes left, right and centre, which is very rare for my farrier. We have put this down to having virtually no wall for the shoe to actually stick too. His hoofs are also quite soft.

So my question is, are ski jump feet a horse conformation fault, which can be fixed by corrective shoeing or is it a farrier fault caused by incorrect shoeing?

Would my horse benefit from corrective ‘barefoot’ trimming and is there anything I can feed him to help him grow more wall so I can eventually stick shoes on him without them falling off!

Emma, via email

A:  Thanks for your question Emma. Sorry to hear about the “ski-jump” problem! I think the name gives a good indication of how the feet might look.

Unfortunately, thoroughbreds sometimes have a tendency to go this way in certain circumstances. To answer your question to start with, I expect there are a number of factors contributing to the problem but this likely includes the conformation of the horse and his type.

From your question, you raise some of the points that need to be considered to help improve the problem and also some of the classic symptoms of a horse with this type of hoof shape and quality.

The factors that commonly contribute to ski-jump feet can include:

  • Conformation – sloping angles of the pastern/hoof
  • Conformation – low/weak heels with long toe
  • Shoeing – unsympathetic shoeing to low/weak heels and long toe which may in effect encourage the problem
  • Poor hoof quality – any horse can suffer from this but we see it more often with the thoroughbred
  • Weakened hoof wall  – caused by excessive rasping of the hoof wall can weaken the hoof and cause it to collapse forwards (resulting in low/weak heels and long toe)
  • Failure to address dorsal flaring (the farrier needs to address the flaring but at the same time avoid excessive rasping resulting in a weakened hoof wall).
  • Irregular (prolonged) periods between shoeing – if left too long between shoeing you’ll have the same effect as many of the above

Usually, a combination of some or all of the factors above can encourage the feet to go this way. They’re all very closely linked and it can often be an ongoing battle (for the farrier and the owner) to keep on top of the problem.

Some of the effects/symptoms that are commonly seen include:

  • Lameness – often pain in the heel area due to the increased loading in this area as a result of the angles
  • Lameness – an increased chance of bruising as the sole becomes flatter as a result of the angles etc
  • Performance issues – stumbling, over-reaching, forging, reluctance to go forwards.
  • Shoe loss – the angles are less than ideal and shoe loss will be closely associated with some of the interference issues as in the previous point
  • Injury – incorrect angles can increase the chance of injury including tendon problems.
  • Poor hoof quality – the hoof will become unnaturally stressed in certain areas which can result in cracks and splits
  • White line issues – a stretched toe will usually stretch the white line which increases the risk of white line disease and/or debris to enter the white line resulting in abscesses and so on
  • Founder – in chronic cases, the long toe can encourage changes to the position of the bone within the hoof capsule.

It sounds like your farrier is conscientious and doing what he can to encourage some improvements. There is no miracle cure for feet of this type but an on-going process which you must both work together on in order to get anywhere. A hoof supplement may help if your horse has particularly soft hooves but this is only one stage of the process. With better hoof quality, your farrier might be able to do more with the feet which in turn might be the key to longer-term improvement. Regular shoeing is vital and 4-5 weeks sounds like a sensible time-frame although your farrier may adjust if necessary.

David Hankin Dip.WCF

This question and answer first appeared in NZ Horse & Pony magazine March 2010.

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