Managing Equine Caudal Hoof Problems

While many farriers might focus on the front half of the horse’s foot—specifically the toe— the caudal aspects (back half) also requires careful attention.

That’s because the back half of the foot can fail in many ways, said Danvers Child, CJF, of Lafayette, Indiana, during his presentation at the 2017 International Hoof-Care Summit held Jan. 24-27 in Cincinnati, Ohio. And how to identify and manage such problems has been a topic of debate among farriers.

Childs has more than 35 years of experience as a sport and performance horse farrier. Additionally, he served as the official farriers supervisor at the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games, in Lexington, Kentucky. He is also the official farrier of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

The Misunderstood Caudal Aspect

“(W)e often neglect the palmar or the plantar aspect of the foot,” Child told the audience of farriers from throughout the country.

Farriers have many ways to describe this part of the hoof: “50/50 ratios, widest part of the foot, center of rotation, however you want to talk about it,” he said. “We’ve got a dividing line there, and I think that’s where we’re talking about the front half and the back half in our daily work and in our daily conversations.”

Often, when the hoof fails, it fails in the back half of the foot, he said, listing collapsed heels, underrun heels, quarter cracks, heel cracks, and bar cracks as problems that can occur in the caudal area.

He also emphasized that the caudal aspect is a constant in terms of mapping the foot, but how that structure is engaged and utilized varies depending on the horse’s conformation, gait, and movement.

Looking for Trouble (and Preventing It)

When evaluating a horse’s foot, Child said he looks for distinctions between the bony attachment in the front half of the foot and the cartilaginous attachment in the back half of the foot. There, based on the tubules’ (formed by the stratum externum and stratum medium layers that extend from the coronary groove toward the bearing surface) appearance, he can usually see where a quarter crack or other problem will develop before it starts.

“You can take any foot and find where your quarter crack will be,” said Child. “That is influenced radically by the position of the fetlock, conformation of the pastern, and by how much we trim and set our ratios and proportions. It is also influenced by the placement of our appliances (shoes, etc., applied to the foot).”

Meanwhile, the bars (located on the bottom of the hoof) provide an indication of the quarter’s health, he said.

The Fix

When this happens, Child grooms the bar back into a straight line (without stripping it out completely); if the bar bends, he said, the hoof wall will develop a commiserate bend (or, more commonly, a flare). In his work with a group of Purdue University broodmares, which he performed four trimmings on, he found it more effective to eliminate flares and distortions by addressing the foot’s solar aspect by working on the bar instead of the hoof wall itself.

“If I’m addressing that wall, I’m just aesthetically improving that flare; I’m not addressing the flare,” he said. “But if I go in and I manicure that bar, then I’m … actually addressing the structural component. I’m trying to move that base of support back to where I think it belongs and to where those anatomical structures tell me it belongs.”

Child cautioned that it might take several trims to remedy the problem completely. For instance, if he only gets a 20% improvement during one trim, he’ll continue working on it at the next trim.

Quarter cracks don’t have to develop for a problem to need fixing. Child said he deals with many broken heels, crushed heels, and structural failures of the heels that don’t ever progress to a quarter crack. When a horse’s heels break down, many farriers will turn to a heart bar shoe to correct it, he said. In contrast, he offers bar support by applying a rigid pour-in pad.

Short Schedules, Healthy Feet

Finally, Child told the farriers in attendance that, over his years of practicing farriery, he’s had to rehabilitate more feet if the horses were on an eight-week trimming and/or shoeing schedule than if they were on a six-week schedule.

“The more you can shorten that schedule … the less that foot is going to distort,” he concluded.