High Performance Hoof Care, LLC
Vickey M. Hollingsworth, DAEP 

Click here to edit subtitle

No Heel...Long Toes...How Do I Fix This?!

In the decade and a half that I have been rehabilitating hooves, there is one recurring conversation I have with horse owners...

"My horse's heels are low and underrun, toes are long, and my vet or farrier says it can't be fixed. He/she says you can't bring the toe back without cutting into the sole and that will cause lameness and 'quicking' the hoof."

So I want to explain the process of bringing the toe back and down without quicking, lamining, or cutting into the sole. It is somewhat of a confusing concept so I have some photos which might help.

First - when I refer to the toe plane, I am talking about the front 1/3 of the hoof capsule that is situated from the tip of the coffin bone forward. The tubules which make up the sole and wall material throughout the toe plane are very dense and tightly packed. In the horse's natural wild environment, he would be moving up to 35 or so miles per day and the toe would be worn back daily. Standing in paddocks and stalls, this extra dense material just gets thicker and longer and more calloused.

It is not a secret that I am not really the traditional barefoot trimmer. With an equine podiatry background, I believe that pressure is the stimulus for growth and that the horse has the innate ability to heal itself if the environment and trim are right. While I do not believe you should aggressively thin or cut into sole, I also do not believe that the sole or toe callous is sacred and cannot be touched. If there is excess thickened toe material preventing the hoof from being balanced properly, then that thick calloused material must go. A truly healthy correct and well functioning hoof will not grow a big toe callous anyway.
Sometimes the hoof angle is too low because the toe plane has built up a thick calloused layer of material that extends the length of the sole, the wall at the toe is very thick, and the entire foot is too long and grown forward.

Simply by addressing this unbalanced toe, you can raise the heel angle from 1 degree to as much as 10 degrees (yes, really!) safely in ONE trim!

At the right you see the same hoof shown at the beginning of this article with the toe trimmed back properly. The hoof angle has increased by about 4 degrees in one trim, and the horse will be more comfortable.

No, you can't just make heel appear that isn't there, but you can set the hoof up for better circulation, wear, and growth. By fixing the biomechanics of the limb, new heel has a chance to grow properly.
Above you can see a great example of a low hoof angle, underrun crushed heel, long flared toe, and a sole that has stretched quite far forward. You can trim sole with the rasp forward of the coffin bone with little risk of making the horse sore. Since this material is unnaturally and unhealthily thick and overgrown, you are simply taking this material down to where it should be and not necessarily cutting into live or functional sole.

Generally, I do not use a knife on the sole to remove any material at all underneath the coffin bone. After rasping the toe plane down so that it matches the live or functional sole, the quarters, and the heels, it is then safe to nip the excess back to the white line, effectively "backing the toe up."

 From the untrimmed hoof photo on the left, you can see that it looks like there is very little wall to work with because the sole has stretched forward, obscuring the white line and wall. But once the toe plane is brought down appropriately, you can see in the second photo that there is now 3/4" of excess hoof wall at the toe which can be nipped straight back. Shortening the toe and bringing the toe plane down naturally increases (raises) the hoof angle and starts to overcome the underslung hoof conformation. Continued trimming like this on a short cycle supports the heel tubules so they can grow down straighter and not become so stretched and run forward.
The above horse was a very interesting case! I was asked to trim this mare when the attending farrier had declared there was nothing he could do and she should be euthanized. The horse was grade 5/5 lame (non-weight bearing) and was diagnosed with navicular disease. She was treated with a digital neurectomy at an equine hospital but her condition worsened.

Upon first examination, I could see that the front hooves had at least 1.5" of thickened, retained sole at the toe, which was throwing her back on the heels. The sole material was the consistency of concrete, was firmly compacted in layers, and was causing her extreme pain. In one trim I was able to uncover years of "toe callous" that had been left intact. Between some of the layers was dirt, flaky white shedding sole, more layers of sole hard as concrete. Finally underneath it all was some concavity and a fairly healthy functional live sole!

Many barefoot trimmers and even some farriers would be terrified to dig out all that sole, but this was an extreme case of a toe plane gone wild. The toe plane had become so abnormally thickened and calloused, that it was acting as a wedge, throwing the horse on the heels, and making the foot extremely long and underrun.

REMEMBER: Healthy, functional live sole should NOT be removed. Only sole that is abnormally thick and is preventing the toe from being brought down and back should be removed!