club feet in adolescent horses

Recognizing and treating hoof conditions, such as club feet, in adolescent horses helps them succeed in their intended discipline and, ultimately, prevent lifelong foot complications. This was the take-home message Craig Lesser, DVM, CF, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky, delivered at the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in San Francisco, California.

Club feet can be noticeable in foals within a few days of life, but they can also develop later on. In cases involving adolescent horses, a variety—and usually multiple—factors contribute to club foot development, such as contracted tendons, pain associated with rapid growth, and a disproportionate rate of tendon and bone growth, among others.

Veterinarians and farriers grade club feet on a four-point scale based on their severity (1 being mild and 4 being severe),

Trimming and Treatments

Lesser said it’s important to be proactive with club-footed adolescents. “The condition performance-limiting, and we want to catch these cases before permanent changes occur,” he said.

“Practitioners need to appreciate the limited amount of scientific evidence in the field of podiatry, and that anecdotal evidence largely dictates current recommendations,” he added.

Lesser said farriers can typically manage milder cases of club feet in young horses without shoes.

“We can trim to rocker the foot, which involves trimming both the heel and toe at an angle,” he said. “This approach slowly stretches out the DDFT (deep digital flexor tendon, which runs from the back of the knee down around the navicular bone and inserts on the coffin bone in the foot) and broadens the heel and toe. These milder cases can usually be brought back to normal with routine maintenance.”

If a shoe is indicated, glue-on shoes often are a good choice. Until a farrier or practitioner gets the hang of it, gluing shoes can be “a daunting process but one that does get easier,” said Lesser

When applying glue-ons, “start with a trim, clean up the foot, and be sure to sand it to maximize surface area of attachment and ensure shoe longevity to about four to six weeks,” he said. “Apply a mesh (this holds the pour-in pad in place), and use copper sulfate in glue (to reduce bacteria and moisture). Use as little glue as possible—there should only be glue between the actual shoe and the foot, (the shoe is locked in at the heels so the glue will go up on the wall a little in that area).”

More severe cases in which the heels are contracted often benefit from spring shoes, which are applied in a similar fashion but have a spring in the heel, held together by a wire to keep its shape.

“As you cut the wires in the middle, the foot really opens up,” said Lesser. “It transforms the foot by widening the hoof and opening the heels.”

One final point: Lesser noted that sedation is often helpful when trimming and shoeing adolescents.