Breakover and Heel First Landing

The location of breakover determines whether the foot will have time in the forward stride to land heel-first, or not. If the toe is long-out-in-front, delaying breakover, the foreleg doesn't have time to swing far enough forward to land heel-first -- like walking uphill -- and will land toe-first instead; the entire gait is shortened.

Delay in breakover also causes forging (hind foot steps on the forefoot) because the forefoot doesn’t get out of the way in time for the hind foot to land on the same spot.

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A wild mustang hoof (upper photo). Left arrow shows where breakover occurs on this naturally-worn foot. 

A domestic hoof with flared toe (lower photo). Right arrow shows the breakover at the very front of a flared toe with flat-bottom trim.

Why do we want a correct breakover?

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When the foot lands toe-first, the pastern bones must change from an upward curve as the toe lands, to a downward curve when the foot becomes weight-bearing

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When the foot lands heel-first, the pastern bones are already in a downward curve (full extension of the joints) and the curve doesn't have to change orientation when the foot becomes weight-bearing.

Everything about the horse's hoof works better when the foot lands on the ground heel-first. The hoof capsule flexes in such a way that you get the best shock absorption, the best circulation, and balanced wear. The digital cushion is tough and the frog and heels are wide; they are able to protect the foot from amazing amounts of hard work.

The horse's movement, when the front feet can land heel-first, is big and free: some people describe it as "dressage-y."

When the foot lands toe-first, none of these things work well:

  • shock absorption is reduced
  • there is less circulation inside the hoof (due to flexing differently)
  • the toe tends to pull forward so that the heels become contracted
  • the hoof wears unevenly

The horse's movement is short with the front legs "stabbing" the ground; the hind feet may forge (hit the front foot before it lifts off).

In addition, the "wiggle" in the pastern bones puts incorrect stress on the impar ligament, which holds the navicular bone in position. The impar ligament gets inflamed from constant toe-first landing. This inflammation, in Bowker's and Ovnicek's opinion, can lead eventually to "navicular syndrome" and/or coffin-joint disease.

What balance does the foot need to land heel first?

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A hoof balanced for heel-first landing. 

The distance from the breakover line to the widest part of the hoof is shorter than the distance from the widest part to the heel buttresses.

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An imbalanced hoof with long heels (which moves the buttresses forward) and a flared toe (which moves the breakover forward). The"widest part" stays at about the same position. 

The distance from the breakover line to the widest part of the hoof is longer than the distance from the widest part to the heel buttresses.

Overall soundness

When a hoof is consistently landing heel-first, its entire physiology and its flexion are able to work the best. Trim problems that we have not been able to fix seem to resolve on their own.

  • A coffin bone that is sitting crooked inside the hoof capsule will level itself over several months without our frustrated efforts to "make it level."
  • "Unidentified heel pain" or "navicular" pain from an inflamed impar ligament disappears.
  • Contracted heels widen. In my two horses, all of the heels became 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1.5 to 2 cm) wider, measuring between the buttresses, within a couple of months. The outline, which had been oval for years, became nearly round.
  • The digital cushion becomes tougher so that the horse can go more comfortably on rough ground.
  • And the great delight: riders are reporting to me that "My horse now has big 'dressage-y' movement, he's such fun to ride!"

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.  ~ Winston Churchill