Have you ever paid attention to the way people walk? Some are pigeon-toed, others are “duck-footed.” Some wear the insides of their shoe heels; others do just the opposite. Yet, most are perfectly “sound” and healthy.

The same principle is true for most horses, asserts farrier Rob Sigafoos of the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, where he specializes in corrective and therapeutic shoeing and hoof care. Of course, horses don’t have the range of motion in their hooves that we do in our feet, so their hooves’ flight and landing patterns are less diverse than ours. Instead, the hooves themselves reshape and conform to the inevitable departures from the textbook descriptions of perfect conformation and movement–a testament to their remarkable ability to adapt, Sigafoos says.

Many hoof problems actually are “man-made,” says Sigafoos. They are the result of someone’s attempt to make hooves look textbook-perfect, not realizing that certain hoof shapes or structural characteristics might, in fact, be necessary adaptive changes. These man-made problems can include such diverse conditions as underrun or contracted heels, navicular syndrome, and hoof cracks. Also symptomatic of “cosmetic shoeing” and trimming, he says, can be the condition known as sheared heels. It might not be a singular cause of lameness by itself, but it is a reason to have the horse examined to determine its possible source. It can cause problems which, at times, are not always easy to repair.

So far, sheared heels sounds pretty minor on the hoof-health scale. But in truth, it’s not that simple. Although many experts agree that improper trimming can lead to sheared heels, they hold differing views on other contributory factors and advocate different approaches to treatment. In this article, we’ll outline the theories of the causes of sheared heels, we’ll t