Importance of Heel First Landing

Heel-first landing in the front feet is necessary for soundness, and indicates a correct trim. 

Hind feet nearly always land heel-first, due to the zig-zag arrangement of the hind leg joints, and this is one reason why hind feet are more often sound. (The Heel First Landing: Indicator of Balanced Trim page has photos showing what toe-first and heel-first landing look like.)

When a horse lands toe-first, or flat, over a long period of time, "navicular" pain is likely to develop.

If a front foot is landing toe first on level ground, look for one or more of the following -- these are the most common hoof difficulties:

  1. Forward flared toe causes late breakover, which in turn gives the front leg too little time to fully extend forward for a heel-first landing. Even a slight flare delays breakover.

    Forward flared toe comes from:

    1. the mechanical forces of horseshoes, which tend to deform the hoof capsule in a forward direction, over time

    2. on a barefoot horse, if we trim the wall to a flat bottom, as in preparation for a horseshoe, rather than using a mustang roll

    3. "grass laminitis" / insulin resistance / Cushings syndrome, all of which make the "white line" (laminae) stretchy so that the toe wall is easily pulled away from the coffin (pedal) bone

      If you have been consistently applying a strong mustang roll for many months, and the toe wall will not grow down straight, this points to insulin resistance, which is seen more as horses age, or Cushings, an age-related decrease in pituitary gland function.

    If your horse's toe-first landing is due to a forward flared toe, you need to "back up" the toe to the edge of the sole.

  2. Fungus infection in the back half of the frog (peeling layers or "shedding frog") and / or a deep crease between the heel bulbs. Fungus is very painful, and the horse will land toe-first deliberately to avoid this heel pain.

  3. Soft, undeveloped digital cushion (a shock absorbing tissue just above the frog, which is supposed to be tough and fibrous), due to:

    1. horseshoes, which prevent frog contact with the ground

    2. horse did not go many miles per day as a foal, or currently does not go many miles per day, on firm ground, which toughens the digital cushion.

      In most domestic horses, especially those that have been shod for a long time, the horse will deliberatelly land toe-first to avoid concussion on the soft digital cushion. The heel should be left 1/8 to 1/4 inch (2 to 5 mm) longer than the sole in the seat of corn (after any chalky sole material is scraped away), to give some protection to the digital cushion while still allowing frog contact. Generally the horse will let you know, by increased or decreased lameness, whether you have trimmed the heel to just the length he needs.

      Horses raised barefoot with sufficient movement, or those in ongoing endurance training, or that live in large enclosures in dry climates, often have tough digital cushions, and their heels can be trimmed (or will naturally wear) down to the level of the sole.

If your horse's front feet land toe-first, you need to find the cause and change the conditions that are preventing heel-first landing. The hoof must land heel-first consistently, to become sound.

For all of these conditions, hoof boots are appropriate for trail riding until the hooves are sound and the horse is able to land heel-first consistently.

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