It's rare to see contracted heels on a horse that does not wear shoes. It's also rare in ponies and draft breeds and draft crosses. Contracted heels are most often caused by the way we interfere with the natural growth and function of our horse's hooves. Shoes are often blamed for contracted heels, but just because a horse is wearing shoes, does not mean they will have contracted heels. Many horses wear shoes for their entire life and still have perfectly healthy hooves. But some horses, even if they are barefoot, but who have the toe of the hoof wall grow faster than their heels may be susceptible to contracted heels if regular balanced trims are not maintained. The key to hoof health is to find a skilled farrier (sometimes not and easy task), and ensuring that your horse is trimmed and re-shod regularly. Although they are called contracted heels, the whole foot may be contracted—narrowed and long. Because the shape of the hoof is changed it may set up conditions that predispose the horse to navicular disease and founder.
Other Names for Contracted Heels:
Contracted heels are most often seen on the front hooves of horses. Signs that hooves are contracted are:
- heel bulbs don't touch the ground
- heel bulbs appear squeezed together with a deep cleft between
- the hoof may appear elongated
- the toe is long
- the clefts of the hoof, especially towards the heels are very deep
- the frog is receded into the hoof
- the frog is narrow
- the hoof has a concave rather than a flat sole
Horses are not necessarily lame as they develop contracted heels but may become lame because the hoof is not expanding and contracting naturally, and the soft tissues of the legs may become strained due to improper hoof angles. The deepened clefts of hoof are an ideal environment for thrush to develop. The process of heels becoming contracted is a long one. One bad trim or shoe job won't cause contracted heels. However, months and years of poor trimming and shoeing can lead to the problem.
Unshod horses will rarely have contracted heels although it is possible. Shoes get a lot of criticism, but not every horse that wears shoes will get contracted heels or develop other problems. Shoes should not bind the foot and cause the hoof to conform to the shape of the shoe. A lot depends on the skill of the blacksmith and the health of the horse's foot. Whether the horse wears shoes or not, it should have its hooves trimmed at the correct angle.
- "Contracted Heels." Merck Manual. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/90718.htm.
- "Primary Contracted Heels: Cause & Treatment." Anvil Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. http://www.anvilmag.com/farrier/prmcnthl.htm.