Managing a Horse’s Underrun Heels

The long-toed, low-heeled hoof is a common and difficult-to-manage hoof abnormality. Here’s what you should know.
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Managing a Horse
A horse is considered to have underrun heels when the heel structures are damaged and the heel angle is considerably less than the dorsal hoof wall angle. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

The long-toed, low-heeled hoof is a common and difficult-to-manage hoof abnormality

It  can be a struggle to maintain our horse’s hooves so that they look the way we want, while also keeping them as healthy and sound as possible. We’re usually fighting against a genetic predisposition for problems, the local climate, the footing a horse has been raised on, poor hoof care at an early age, feet that have been previously shod inappropriately, excessive softening of the foot due to moisture, type of work, or problematic foot and limb conformation. And once hoof problems start, sometimes they can be challenging or impossible to fix. Such is the case with what is known as underrun heels, sometimes described as the long-toed, low-heeled hoof.

Stephen O’Grady, DVM, MRCVS, owner of Virginia Therapeutic Farriery, in Keswick, says underrun heels are one of the most important and common foot abnormalities the horse industry faces today. He was a professional farrier for 10 years before earning a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pretoria, in South Africa, in 1981, and he now focuses solely on podiatry with his practice. He says any of the items listed above can cause underrun heels.  

But both he and Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, Dipl. ACVSMR, of Anoka Equine Veterinary Hospital, in Elk River, Minnesota, shy away from using that “long-toed, low-heeled hoof” phrase

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Written by:

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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