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Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995

Mini Essays: The Lazy Horse,
Club Foot & Knock-Knee Foal

F. Thomas Breningstall

The Lazy Horse
"I have a 3-year-old that tends to drag his back feet, usually while he is out in the pasture," writes Linda from Minnesota. "Earlier this summer he wore his toes almost down to the white line. The farrier thinks something must be wrong, maybe a back problem, but the vets can find nothing wrong. They think he may be lazy. He is a little cow hocked in back. Any clue as to what might help this horse?"

"Our farrier believes that if you put shoes only on the front, you will throw the horse totally out of balance. Other people tell me this is just not so, and they shoe only the front feet. Obviously my horse that drags in back needs shoes in back, but what about our other horse? Is it better to shoe all four or only the fronts?"

Horses that drag their hind feet as you described are, as your vets have said, lazy. Sometimes a horse doesn't pay attention to what his hind feet are doing. If he drags his feet only at a walk when you're leading him, try checking his head up. Do this by walking close to his head. Put the lead rope in your right hand and hold it close, about 8" from the halter. Ask him to raise his nose by pulling up on the lead rope, above his nose.

Checking the head up does three things. One, you have his attention -- he's thinking. Two, it opens up his underside, making the muscles work. Three, since he can't see his hind feet, he will pick them up higher to avoid tripping on things he can't see.

If he drags his feet all the time I would look into a stifle or bone spavin problem. It may not hurt to look into these areas, anyway. I doubt the cow hocks are the problem.

As for shoeing just the fronts, I have many horses that I shoe only in front and they go just fine. Horses carry something like 60% of their weight on the front, so the fronts sometimes show the need for shoes before the rears do.

Barring reasons of lameness, conformation, or usage, the main reason we shoe a horse is to protect the hoof. If the hoof wears off faster then it grows, if the sole bruises or the walls chip or crack, then shoes are needed to protect the feet.

Club Foot
"I have a foal with boxed feet," writes Rikus Delport of South Africa. "How does one treat this problem? Should we put shoes on him, or should we try to clip it right? We supplement his food with all sorts of vitamins and calcium."

With so little information I will have to assume many things. Boxed feet--I assume this is the condition also called "club feet." Not knowing how many feet are involved or to what extent, I suggest it may be best to shoe the young horse for a short period to get the feet looking normal. Then remove the shoes to permit proper hoof growth. I would shoe the horse with flat shoes and put a leather pad on the worst hoof.

In some rapidly growing young horses, the bones grow faster than the tendons. If this is the case with your horse, weekly trimming of the heels may help. Don't feed the horse off the ground, as it will cause him to put one foot (always the same foot) back, and that foot will likely be the club foot. Give the young horse lots of exercise.

Knock-Knee Foal
"I have a foal with knock-knees," writes John Marsh of North Carolina. "Both knees are so bad that they hit together when he walks. Is it possible that keeping the hooves properly cut could help straighten the knees? I have ordered a knee brace. Have you heard any news (good or bad) about knee braces for this problem?"

Foals with severe knock-knees may be helped by trimming the outside heel and quarter of the hoof wall lower then the inside hoof wall, and squaring the toe of the hoof wall. But you can accomplish only a limited amount with trimming alone.

Other things you need to do are: exercise the foal twice daily by hand walking it for 15 to 30 minutes; massage the legs, top to bottom, for 10 minutes each leg; ice-bag the knees for 15 minutes to help with pain and swelling. You can make an ice bag by combining one cup isopropyl alcohol to three cups water in a Ziploc-type bag and freezing it overnight. The result is a nice cold ice bag that is not solid, so will form to the knee. Wrap the ice bag with terrycloth, so as not to injure the horse's skin.

Knee braces, if designed to help this problem, will probably help. I have not seen any long-term study on their use, but I would be concerned that prolonged use of braces could weaken the knees. Other options to consider with your vet are surgery, epiphysial stapling, and casting.

F. Thomas Breningstall is an AFA and MHA certified full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. This article first appeared in Rural Heritage magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

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