Heel First Landing: Indicator of Balanced Trim

The barefoot movement and its veterinary researchers have come up with a reliable way to tell whether a hoof is well-trimmed overall.

Traditionally, people understood the importance of breakover to a horse's best athletic movement and to long-term soundness. Since the early 1900's, when cars replaced horses as the main means of transportation, this understanding got lost. The movement of most horses deteriorated as the "long-heeled" trim became the style in farrier schools. In recent decades, many horse-people have almost never seen a horse moving well. When I first saw my mare’s feet start to land correctly, I thought it looked "artificial"!

The indicator of a good trim is that when going on level ground, the front feet land heel-first. Just before the heel lands, you can see the foot "flip" forward as all joints in the leg go into complete extension.

In a horse with an imbalanced foot, the toe lands first, or the foot may land flat. With toe-first landing, you will see a little “wiggle” in the pastern bones -- you can almost hear them go "ka-chunk" -- as the horse puts weight on the foot.

(Note: The hind leg joints bend differently from the front leg joints, so that the hind leg lands heel-first almost irregardless of how the foot is trimmed. When I talk about how to trim a foot to get it to land heel-first, I am talking about the front feet. We don't trim the hind feet this way because they don't need it, except in the unusual situation where the toe has gone long-out-in-front; in this case we can use the trim method temporarily until the toe has been backed-up closer to the coffin bone.)

We can see the difference between heel-first and toe-first landing by walking the horse downhill and then uphill on a slight slope.


Watch your horse walking downhill. There is plenty of time for the front leg to extend fully before it reaches the ground. You will see the foot "flip" forward as every joint extends fully, and then the hoof will touch the ground heel-first.


Walking uphill to show what a toe-first landing looks like. None of the foreleg joints are in full extension -- there is not enough time for the leg to extend fully before the ground arrives. The toe touches first and then you will see a navicular-stressing "wiggle" or "ka-chunk!" in the pastern bones as the horse weights the foot.

Now, to discover whether your horse is "officially" landing heel-first or toe-first, watch him walking on level ground, and notice how the front feet are landing. Sometimes they land exactly flat, which is better than toe-first, but can be improved further by trimming as I will show below.

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