What exactly is breakover? Most would answer that it is the horse’s heel lifting off the ground and rotating over the toe as his foot leaves the ground. Breakover is simple in its definition, but pretty complex in its implications for your horse’s movement and soundness. And there’s not a lot of research out there yet to clearly define the best breakover for any horse.

In the meantime, while we wait for researchers to clarify the complicated interactions between hoof angle, hoof length, breakover point, shoe type, and the forces on the numerous joints and soft tissues in a horse’s legs, we can look at what is currently known about breakover and how it can be managed to maximize your horse’s soundness and performance.

Defining Breakover

Let’s begin with the idea that breakover, however short, is a process rather than just an instant in time. World-renowned biomechanics researcher Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, McPhail Endowed Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, offered this definition of breakover in the Proceedings of the 2003 Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium:

“Breakover begins when the heels leave the ground and start to rotate around the toe of the hoof, which is still in contact with the ground. Breakover is initiated by tension in the deep digital flexor muscle and the distal check ligament (DCL, also known as the inferior or subcarpal check ligament), both of which act through the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), combined with tension in the navicular ligaments.

“On a hard surface, the hoof remains flat on the ground until he