Long Toe, Low Heel – The Root Of Horse Lameness

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[memb_is_logged_in] Discussion:
I attended a 3 day conference on lameness about two years ago. Half of the discussion centered on the new diagnostics including digital imaging (radiographs and ultrasound) and focused diagnostic nerve blocks. The other half discussed therapy modalities including shock wave therapy and platelet rich plasma injections.

On the last day, a senior veterinarian came to the stage and said what I had been thinking. His topic was titled “Long Toe, Low Heel.” He basically said that if you don’t take care of the basic problem, then everything we learned this at this conference is for nothing.

I would add that poor conformation and under-conditioned horses and riders are also to blame for many of the lameness horses. But what is really behind ALL of this are the laws of physics. My other video called “F=ma” discusses the concept of weight as a cause of lameness. This topic is about force applied to a direction. Physicists and mathematicians call it “vector analysis.” You will call it “Long toe, low heel”

Nobody I know of loves horses AND physics. Except maybe me.

Yet physics is everything with horses as far as lameness goes and one of the things that keeps repeating for me is the concept of horse hooves with toes that are too long and heels that are too low.

What exactly is too long and too low? It is different for every horse but in general, when looking at the side of the horse, the pastern angle should be the same angle as the hoof angle. In other words, when you draw a line from the fetlock to the coronary band along the pastern, the line should continue without a change in direction down the hoof to the ground.

All of this has to do with leverage and vector analysis. But that would probably be too much for most of you. So I decided to show this concept to you in a simple fashion.

Imagine wearing a pair of clown shoes with toes that are twice as long as your feet. To move your foot forward in a normal way, you need to lift your leg way up in the air before you could even move it forward. I’m sure when you were little, you sneaked into your Dad’s closet and tried to walk around in his shoes. Shuffling worked, but if you really wanted to walk, you needed to exaggerate lifting your leg just to get the shoe off the ground to break over the toe. This is what long toe is and it takes a lot of effort which leads to muscle fatigue and tendon breakdown. It also leads to premature wear and damage to the pivot points including the sesamoid bones and and navicular bone and bursa.

Low heel is part of the long toe conformation because I have not seen short toe low heel. It is just that way.

In the short toe, high heel conformation, the hoof is closer to breaking over the toe right from the start. Much less effort is needed to raise the leg up and forward thus the effort on the tendons is less as well as the pressure applied to the pivot points. To avoid the vector analysis, lets think of you, again as a kid, trying on Mom’s high heels. I never did this by the way. But I saw my sister do it once and I rolled over laughing as she tried to imitate Mom. She was sure was able to walk better in the high heels than in Dad’s shoes.

A note about club foot in horses. This is a sequelae of a contracted deep digital flexor tendon in foals and represents an extreme short toe and high heel. However, the pastern-hoof axis is not equal but broken in the opposite direction of the long toe – low heel conformation. That said, I rarely have seen a lameness in a club foot other than a mechanical imbalance or asymmetry in the gait due to a difference in length of the horse’s 2 front limbs.

Another note is that long toe – low heel has far more consequences in the front limbs than the hind limbs. I believe the reason for this is because 60% of the horse’s weight is carried by the front limbs, horses moving forward at any speed and also include elevation (jumps) land on the front limbs adding concussion, and there is distribution of weight both in front and behind the front limbs whereas the hind limbs only have their weight in front of the limb. In other words, the hind limbs are used in propulsion while the front limbs are used in propulsion AND support of the body moving forward which increases the load (weight) on these forelimbs.

Summary: Long toe – low heel is a leading cause of lameness in horses and can be avoided with good hoof care. Always stand your horse on a flat surface and look at the pastern-hoof axis to be sure the angle is the same.

I have put together a video where my associate found some clown shoes on e-bay and dug out of her closet her high heels. Please understand that this video represents only the concept behind the vector analysis, leverage, and other laws of physics. Her “foot” is equal to the horse’s hind limb from the hoof (middle toe) to the hock (her heel). However, the pictures below the video show the broken pastern-hoof axis that is common with long toe – low heel conformation.

Also remember that we are only discussing here the 2 dimensional view of the horse, not the 3 dimensional view that includes axial rotation, nor the medial to lateral balance that is also involved in lameness development.

This actually will take a lot of discussion including a dynamic white board presentation which could also become a webinar. If this is something you are really interested in, just make a comment below and when I get enough requests and there is some time, I will do that.

Long Toe – Low Heel Video


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Discussion:
I attended a 3 day conference on lameness about two years ago. Half of the discussion centered on the new diagnostics including digital imaging (radiographs and ultrasound) and focused diagnostic nerve blocks. The other half discussed therapy modalities including shock wave therapy and platelet rich plasma injections.

On the last day, a senior veterinarian came to the stage and said what I had been thinking. His topic was titled “Long Toe, Low Heel.” He basically said that if you don’t take care of the basic problem, then everything we learned this at this conference is for nothing.

I would add that poor conformation and under-conditioned horses and riders are also to blame for many of the lameness horses. But what is really behind ALL of this are the laws of physics. My other video called “F=ma” discusses the concept of weight as a cause of lameness. This topic is about force applied to a direction. Physicists and mathematicians call it “vector analysis.” You will call it “Long toe, low heel”

Nobody I know of loves horses AND physics. Except maybe me.

Yet physics is everything with horses as far as lameness goes and one of the things that keeps repeating for me is the concept of horse hooves with toes that are too long and heels that are too low.

Log in for more plus a video of clown shoes and high heels that demonstrates these principles.
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Comments 1

  1. This is certainly a very interesting subject indeed.Prolonged long toe and low heel can also result in the tubials being crushed in the heels as well.The horse may often need to use frog supported pads because now the frog needs to be engaged to eleviate some of the stress load.Many gaited performance horses such as thorougggbreds and standardbreds derive about 75% of their power from the stifle muscle area and so with a long toe low heel,it will often delay and extend the breakover point of the horse.This can lead to other problems such as a horse encuring the effects of run down.Many related problems to run can occur,damage to the digital cushion,distal sesamoid bone(navicular bone),middle and superficial sesamoidian ligaments and others.Some horses have a slight paddling gait or a pass by gait and as such when landing their feet they often land slightly on the inside of their foot first,so it is my opinuion only to ensure that a horse´s feet receive regular checking for balance as well.

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