Contracted heels are one of the most common problems encountered by farriers today.
In fact, many of us are so used to seeing contracted heels that we don’t even consider them abnormal.
Heels can become contracted for a number of reasons, with the most common being that the toes have been allowed to grow too long. When the toes get long, leverage forces on the front of the foot are increased, which has the effect of ‘pulling’ the whole foot forwards. As the mass shifts towards the front of the foot, the heels move forwards and pinch tighter together.
Another major cause of contraction is pain in the back of the foot, as any issues in this area cause the horse to land toe first in an attempt to protect the sore heel area. This unnatural landing pattern leads to contraction for two main reasons:
- As mentioned above, the toe landing will increase leverage on the front of the foot, pulling the heels forwards.
- The pressure and release of weight-bearing on the back of the foot is needed to produce strong, developed, wide heels. Without this pressure, the heels fail to develop the strength and robustness required for them to optimally perform their job.
Other causes of contraction include shoes that are too small; waiting too long between farrier visits; spending too long in soft footing; or an injury causing a horse to favour one foot for a period of time, so he does not weight bear on the now contracted foot.