What’s Really Crushing Horses’ Heel Structures

Dissections show that a well-developed caudal foot maintains it shape and does its job protecting the hoof and joints from concussion.
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What’s Really Crushing Horses’ Heel Structures
The basic shape of the coffin bone and hoof capsule plays an important part in how feet distort when the back of the hoof is weak and of low volume. In a more upright foot with an arched coffin bone, the cartilages curl inward (peak is marked with green arrows), the heels will contract, and the frog generally looks narrow. | Photo: Paige Poss
Navicular syndrome, described more recently as podotrochlosis, is the classic problem veterinarians diagnose and manage in the rear, or caudal, portion of horses’ feet. Paige Poss, a longtime hoof care provider who has studied hoof anatomy and performed thousands of hoof dissections, recently shared what she’s learned from dissecting this part of the foot and how we could be inadvertently damaging it with our management practices. She spoke to an audience of veterinarians and farriers at the 11th annual Northeast Association of Equine Practitioners (NEAEP) symposium, held Sept. 25-28 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Poss has spent 20 years dissecting and photographing horses’ lower limbs, focusing primarily on the feet to better understand and explain hoof pathology—disease or damage—through teaching materials for professionals and owners. She believes many clues to a foot problem (and its fix) lie in anatomic circumstances within the hoof that veterinarians and farriers need to stop and consider.

“The back of the foot is a truly unique structure,” said Poss. “It’s excellent for dispersing concussion– that’s what it’s made for. But when the back of the hoof is unhealthy, I don’t think it deals well with constant compression. So how we load a vulnerable foot can really affect the shape of the hoof.”


A degenerative condition of the navicular bone (the canoe-shaped bone behind the coffin bone and beneath the short pastern bone, around which the deep digital flexor tendon passes) and soft tissues in the back of the horse’s foot

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Written by:

Stephanie L. Church, Editorial Director, grew up riding and caring for her family’s horses in Central Virginia and received a B.A. in journalism and equestrian studies from Averett University. She joined The Horse in 1999 and has led the editorial team since 2010. A 4-H and Pony Club graduate, she enjoys dressage, eventing, and trail riding with her former graded-stakes-winning Thoroughbred gelding, It Happened Again (“Happy”). Stephanie and Happy are based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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