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Contracted Heels 101

Barefoot Horse Hoof Trimmer

Hoof Contraction – A Common Sight

The appearance of a contracted hoof is so typical that it can be considered the norm. The hoof looks long and narrow, particularly towards the back half. The heels look like they pinch together, squeezing the bulbs and frog. The heels curve in like hooks, towards the frog, creating a V-shape instead of a straight line. The collateral grooves on either side of the frog are not in a clear line. Pinching causes heel pain, and the horse tries to avoid it.  You can recognize the short choppy strides that are commonplace with contracted hoofs. With contraction, the horse attempts to avoid additional heel pain by landing toe first. By contrast, a pain-free horse moves by throwing his hoof out in front, landing heel first.

Forced Distortion

Contracted heels on a shod horseContraction is not a disease, but rather an imposed deformity of the hoof. Hoof mechanism is no longer functioning, meaning the hoof does not expand when bearing weight and often becomes even narrower. Over time, contraction jeopardizes beneficial elements in the hoof causing demineralization, break down of tissues and deformation of bone structure. Contraction is usually also present with serious conditions such as Laminitis, coffin bone rotation and Navicular Disease. Potentially harmful effects of contraction are too numerous to list and are not limited to the hoof alone. Lack of proper hoof mechanism means a lack of proper blood circulation, which can result in metabolic restrictions and excessive stress to the heart. Seeking to avoid the pain, the horse can compensate by stressing other muscles abnormally, causing chronic pain elsewhere. The condition can exist on its own or in combination with other conditions, such as under-run heels. There can be multiple causes of pain. A navicular disease condition, an injury, or something is causing pain, and in turn, incorrect hoof loading leads to contraction. The order is not the issue. Conditions treated in isolation without addressing the core cause, make a successful cure virtually impossible.

Frog Warning

Restriction of the frog function directly affects the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the entire hoof. Compounded problems can then arise to other integral systems like nerve function, bone strength, cartilage integrity and resilience of tendons and ligaments further up the structure. Another result can be a tenacious and smelly bacterial infection. Thrush is a result when a lack of proper blood flow enables microbes to destroy tissue faster than new frog horn can grow. Past injuries can cause uneven mechanical loading. Heel sensitivity can cause toe loading, taking the weight off the frog, allowing it to atrophy and become even narrower, inhibiting the healthy capacity of frog, heels, and bars to absorb shock. The hoof gets narrow; a malicious cycle is set in motion, further constricting blood flow and stressing overall function. Hoof horn quality reduces throughout corium and all components of the hoof. Angles can be affected and cause stress to further up the structure. Conditions vary, and symptoms range from no blatant display of lameness to extremely visible.

Remove the Cause

It’s a good idea to try to determine the cause of contraction, so you can eliminate it and get the condition under control. Some of the reasons are poor shoeing or trimming, inappropriate ground, too much moisture, not enough movement, and it may have come with the horse before your time. Constant clamping with metal shoes restricts proper hoof mechanism. Remove the cause and work towards the rehabilitation of the condition.

2 Ways to Detect – Take the Test!

Here is a quick check:

  1. Stand your horse on a level and hard ground. If you can slide anything between the ground and the frog, the frog is not functioning correctly, and contraction is likely to present.
  2. Double Check: Draw a line. Place a ruler or draw a line alongside the frog (the collateral groove). If it intersects any substance of frog or horn, contraction is likely present.

The frog should comprise 25 – 30% of the entire sole area of the hoof. You should see a shallow diamond shape in the middle of a healthy hoof frog (the central sulcus). If you only see a thin slit, it is likely to harbour a thrush infection.

Future Opportunity for Health

Good Hoof Mechanism - after contracted heels

Several factors must fit together, impeccably, for a horse to remain sound and healthy. Hooves must bear weight properly to stay sound, with multiple structures sharing the load. Living conditions should be suitable for the horse. Physiologically correct trimming is a must and should take the type, amount, and degree of contraction into account. Consider the history of the horse. In short, the hoof must be de-contracted and opened up, to restore hoof function. The hoof must expand and flex when weight-bearing. Confer with your hoof practitioner so that you understand the process. It’s essential to partner with someone willing to work with you and discuss it in a way you can understand, someone you trust. Restoring proper hoof mechanism combats contraction. Much information exists on the subject. Do your research.

Cavallo Comfort

Your horse may be tender at first when blood circulation is re-established, and he can feel his feet. Get your Cavallos on his feet, with some gel or comfort pads and keep him moving through the discomfort. Movement facilitates healing.  Do not confine for long periods. Hand walk him if he is not willing to move on his own. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more he moves, the faster recuperation occurs. Keep him moving. The goal is the proper distribution and loading of the hoof to facilitate blood circulation.

Not my Business?  Really?

Gone are the days when horses’ feet were not our concern. Before, we left it to the farrier, and we picked, groomed and rode. I remember a pivotal conversation that changed the trajectory of my life with horses. A farrier told me that hoofs were not my business, and I should get in the saddle and ride. It was a condescending, yet not infrequent sentiment of certain farriers of the time. I was offended, but now, I am grateful to Don the Farrier, for his resistance to my inquiries and involvement with the horse’s feet. It caused me to investigate further. I now enjoy the unimaginable pleasure of helping horses with their hooves in an innovative and non-traditional way.

Cavallo Hoof Boots can assist you through the treatment of contraction. Cavallo protection delivers comfort, safety and confidence for your horse.


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Wishing you many happy heels and happy trails,

2020 email signature - Carole Herder - Cavallo Hoof Boots - Hoof Prints on the Journey Book

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