Contracted Heels / Hoof

A hoof is very contracted when the overall shape is long and narrow, the heel purchase areas are close together (top arrows), and the heel bulbs are close together and form a deep pucker that looks like butt-cheeks (bottom arrow). Some horses can have a wide middle to their hoof, yet have the heel purchases close together; that is usually referred to as "heel contraction." The majority of horses with contracted hooves have some contraction in all areas.

contracted_01This hoof may look like a drastic example of contraction, but is pretty typical of the appearance of most hooves upon deshoeing. You can even see examples of similarly contracted hooves proudly displayed in magazine ads, catalogs, and photo close-ups of top competition and even Olympic-level horses. Surprisingly, to many people, this hoof will look totally normal! This is not normal, this is pathological.

The hoof capsule deformity presses in on the sides of the back of the hoof, squeezing the soft tissues of the back of the hoof making the heels narrower. "Contraction robs the horse of its natural blood pumping, shock absorbing expansion almost as bad as a nailed on shoe....The very best thing to do for contraction is not to worry about it. The hoof "knows" what its optimum shape is and is constantly trying to go there.

contracted_02This hoof is very unhealthy, due to the diminished blood flow inside the hoof, and the deformity of the internal hoof structures. This horse is most likely lame (meaning that he cannot walk barefoot upon the ground comfortably and heel-first). Even if he is not yet showing lameness or other symptoms, he has probably begun the changes towards both navicular syndrome and founder.  These changes don't happen quickly, they happen slowly - degeneration over the years - further exacerbated by any treatment that alleviates the pain (shoeing, pads, drugs, etc.) but fails to recognize and remedy the cause of the problem: the contraction of the hoof.

Here is a normal, healthy hoof that is not contracted:

contracted_03This hoof belongs to a horse that has never worn shoes. This hoof is ROUND, equal width and length. Notice how far apart the heel purchase areas are (top arrows) and how far apart the heel bulbs are. Notice the wide space (bottom arrow) in between the two heel bulb points - no resemblance to butt-cheeks!

This is a healthy hoof that is not contracted. ALL HOOVES should look similar to this, with the above-mentioned features. This is what constitutes a healthy, functioning equine hoof, as defined by nature, and not by man.

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