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MicKey73 04-16-2012 08:50 PM

Possible buy: Are pads on front feet cause for concern?
Hi! One of the event prospects I just went to see and ride has pads on her front feet. I asked why and they said it was to help her grow a heel. She's an OTTB and does have low heels, but has also been off track in a backyard for about 5 years prior to being brought back to work 2 years ago. They also said she's never been lame or injured since they've had her. What do you think? I always think navicular or other problems when I see pads like that. Is this a normally used way to grow heels?
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franknbeans 04-16-2012 09:00 PM

I personally would be careful. When my OTTB needed pads, he had a fractured coffin bone. He had "Prada" shoes ever after. A friends OTTB,pads for life-glue ons'. I no longer have and that REQUIRE shoes.
I supposed if you have an unlimited budget for shoes, it is fine-personally, I prefer NO shoes. I would suggest a vet could answer you with a PPE. I personally like to know that when I go to ride my horse had 4 good feet under him-not a loose or missing shoe. I got really tired of that, but that is just my .02.

MicKey73 04-16-2012 09:10 PM

I agree 100%! I can budget for shoes all around if needed, but just didn't know if this was something I should run away from... and save myself the ppe. They are SO expensive in my area, even without xrays that I want to put that money into the best candidate, not something I could rule out right away. Foot problems scare the bejeezus outta me.
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MicKey73 04-16-2012 10:45 PM

Anyone? Farrier forum friends?
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DraftyAiresMum 04-16-2012 10:58 PM

I would find out exactly WHY she "has" to have pads.

My friend has an arab mare whose soles bruise EXTREMELY easily. They tried taking the pads off at one point and her soles were nothing but one big stone bruise.

MicKey73 04-16-2012 11:39 PM

That's all they said about it, just that it was supposed to help her with the low heel. Is that a common thing??

gypsygirl 04-17-2012 07:39 AM

if they are wedge pads they are for low heels. my horse has them and its something they will probably wear forever. i would definitely have xrays done during a PPE if you are thinking about buying this horse. depending on the severity it may not be an issue for this horse.

RaiRaiNY 04-17-2012 07:42 AM

My horse has front pads to correct her low heels, and the only time she has soundness issues is when she kicks her stall wall to scare the gelding next to her (mares, lol). I'd find out the real reason for the pads with a PPE before making a decision. Unless there was a serious issue, it wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me.

DuffyDuck 04-17-2012 07:46 AM

Ask to speak to their farrier so you can fully understand the commitment, cost and the plans for the horse's hooves.. if anything just say its so you can find out directly soyour farrier knows how to carry on the care.

And get xrays done. I went to view a horse who had pads on the hind to help with heels. They were supposed to come off 2 weeks after I viewed her, and we agreed on a price, and to do the vet check when they were off (relief for me so I had time to get the money together) and it turned out she had fractured bones. And failed the check.

Some people don't realise, and some people won't tell. Better safe than sorry!

Horseman56 04-17-2012 09:51 AM


Originally Posted by MicKey73 (Post 1458044)
Hi! One of the event prospects I just went to see and ride has pads on her front feet.

Is this a normally used way to grow heels?

Let's presume the owner is being honest and that the farrier's reason for installing the front pads is to address a "low heel" issue.

If you replace the word "normal" with "common", then yes... it's a "commonly" used way to "grow" heels.... and no, for the most part, it doesn't work.

Let's talk about why and what "low heels" really means.

The vast majority of "low heeled" horses have a congenital defect called "under-run heels". The heels aren't really "low" in that they lack length. They appear "low" because the horn tubules at the heel grow and collapse (bend) at a more acute angle than those tubules originating more anterior the hoof capsule. A common, albeit somewhat arbitrary rule is... if the posterior horn tubules at the heel grow at an angle that is five degrees or more acute than the horn tubules at the toe, the horse is classified as having "under-run" heels. It's not a great definition, but it's a fair rule of thumb... or rule of "heel" as the case may be.

To address the mechanical distortion associated with under-heels, the hoof, and particularly the heel region, is trimmed in an effort to bring the "base of support" back under the vertical axis of the limb. This results in the "low heels" that owners so often complain about.

This is an important point. The farrier isn't trying to "lower" the heels. He's trying to move the heels "back" in an effort to improve balance around the center of articulation. Correct dorsal/palmar balance is more important than heel tubule length. The farrier can compensate for the resultant loss of heel length (e.g. wedges), but without trimming those under-run heels to a shorter length he cannot otherwise move the base of support.

There are two common reasons for a horse to present under-run heels.

The first is excessive capsule length. Poor maintenance can, on some horses, result in a foot that "runs forward" under load. The heels drive forward under load during the landing phase of the stride. The entire foot, beginning with the toe, is dragged forward again during the breakover phase of the stride. As the foot grows in length, the leverage/load force becomes greater, bending the horn tubules of the heel and resulting in a greater disparity of angle between the heels and the dorsal wall.

This first case of "under-run" heels really isn't "under-run" heels at all. It's capsular distortion associated with poor hoofcare and can usually be corrected with proper trimming.

This first case is also comparatively rare.

Let's talk about the second and more common case... congenital under-run heels.

The second case is a matter of debate but at least does center around the premise that the issue is congenital/conformational. Congenital/conformational associated under-run heels cannot be corrected.

In the congenital case, the horn tubules of the heels will present forward running distortion nearly at their origination point. Under microscope, these tubules will appear "bent" in the first few millimeters of growth. No one appears to know if those tubules are bending because of load force associated with conformational imbalance or because they are simply "weak" as compared to the tubules more posterior the heel area of the coronary corium. In my personal view, the causal factor is variation in tubule diameter, strength and growth direction at the origin of the coronary.

Either way, the farrier can only compensate for the defect, not correct it. Pads are the most common approach to compensating for the weak/bent tubules.

Thoroughbreds are notorious for this problem and particularly difficult to manage. It also places the farrier in a poor position. If he trims the heels in an effort to balance the base of support around the COA, the owner complains the heels are too short. If he leaves the heels alone, they distort forward, leaving the horse in dorsal/palmar imbalance and increasing the risk of bruising at the heel buttress.

A secondary issue for horses presenting under-run heels is phalangeal alignment. Bringing those heels back (shortening) also means reducing the ventral angle of the distal phalanx relative to ground parallel. That reduced angle can mean a "broken back" pastern alignment. Again, wedge pads, often with frog support, are utilized to realign the phalanxes. If the heels can be brought back without compromising phalangeal alignment, a flat leather pad may be employed to reduce load impact force at the heel buttress and the entire hoof capsule. I've done the mathematical analysis of pad depth effect on impact force reduction over the increased "cushion" distance a pad provides and found the reduction to be surprisingly small. It helps, but not much.

So, there you have it. Pads won't, in my view, help a horse with "low heels" grow more heel because heel growth isn't the problem. The problem is "direction of tubule growth/distortion". Pads help the farrier manage the problem by addressing the mechanical distortion and load balance.

Do these horses require shoes and pads for life? As always, it depends. It depends on the owners use and performance expectations of the animal and the magnitude of the defect.

Either way, barefoot or shod, padded or not, resultant weak tubules or simply conformational imbalance, horses presenting true, congenital under-run heels are what they are and the owner and farrier are left to manage the issue as best they can.

There are two easy ways to avoid the problems associated with chronic, congenital under-run heels in horses.

First... don't breed them.

Second... don't buy them.


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