Overreaching in a Young Horse

Q. My young Warmblood is currently barefoot and has a huge overstride (her hind leg steps in front of where her front foot leaves the ground at the trot), which is desirable in dressage. She occasionally catches her front heels both in turnout and when I’m riding her. I’m concerned that this will get worse when we start shoeing her. Do you have any recommendations to prevent her from bruising her heels or pulling shoes when shod?

A. In my experience, young horses—particularly larger breeds such as Warmbloods—often have an uncoordinated movement pattern when first entering training, and interference (contact) between legs is common, similar to a toddler or young puppy figuring out their legs. This might occur until they become physically mature (generally around 5 or 6 years of age) and develop confidence in their movement.

Leg protection in the form of bell boots and splint boots or polo wraps might be needed during training activities and when the horse is turned out in large spaces such as paddocks or pastures.

Front and hind foot conformation might pose an increased risk for interference. Long-toe, low-heel conformation, for example, can lead to overreaching injuries in some cases. Have a discussion with your veterinarian and farrier to determine if intervention is warranted. In some cases squaring the hind toe and rolling or rockering the front toe can prevent overreaching, also known as forging. 

In summary, overreaching problems often improve as the horse matures and becomes more confident in their movement. Consistent and careful management of the feet by the farrier and proper direction from the rider can further prevent many interference injuries from happening. Protecting the feet and lower legs might be necessary to avoid contact at times when risk is high.