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An introduction to the effects and consequences of unbalanced hooves

Side to Side Imbalance
A hock that swings out while the foot is grounded is a good example of secondary motion caused by side to side imbalance—one side of the toe being very slightly longer than the other. It is often considered ‘normal’ for a horse to move this way, but it is not, although it is commonly seen. It is detrimental to the horse’s future soundness since it exerts torque on the hind leg joints! How many performance horses suffer from hock problems…? Many of these have a wobble in the hock.
Many horses are shod for the way they stand, and this is relevant, yet shoeing for movement is much more important. Many horses, for example, have odd front feet, with one smaller, upright foot (often incorrectly identified as a club foot) and one larger, flatter foot, often with underrun heels. It has been suggested that this results primarily from compensatory movement for an imbalance in the hind feet, although correct trimming and shoe placement on all four feet is critical if changes are to be permanently effected. It is likely that these foot imbalances may be at least partially due to the “handedness” of the horse but we must also consider the effects of saddlefit and rider influence, not to mention injuries, all of which need to be addressed along with the feet!

It is common to find horses with one low, seemingly less developed shoulder, which is frequently further forward than the other shoulder as well (see Asymmetry article). This can be caused by saddle or rider interference, but more commonly it is the result of another side to side imbalance in the hind foot on the same side, possibly due to handedness again. Often it is aggravated by a very subtle long point in one of the toe quarters. For a farrier who understands the problem, it is a relatively simple matter to correct the hind foot in such a way that the shoulders can level out—sometimes immediately! I have seen this happen on a number of horses, have successfully done it on my own horses, and it still amazes me…

These side to side imbalances also frequently cause deviations in the swing phase of a horse’s stride, although if the deviation is caused by a conformation defect the horse cannot be helped by therapeutic shoeing. Many horses with legs that don’t swing straight forward, however, just need some precision balancing in the feet.

These imbalances can be minimal (as little as 1/16”), but they seriously affect not just the horse‘s motion but also long-term soundness. Although you might feel that the soft footing of your riding ring will allow the horse to compensate for these imbalances, in fact I’ve found this is not the case. The imbalance must be corrected, whether the correction needs to be made to the hoof itself, or to shoe placement.

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Last updated October 17, 2003

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