Dealing with Club Foot in Horses

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A club foot in horses is identified by a severely dished toe and a heel that is much too high. In severe cases, it looks almost as though the horse is standing on stilts. Club foot is thought to be a genetic problem, and is mostly seen in Arabian and Morgan horses. Although severe cases are easy to tell at a glance and typically prevent the horse from being ridden, more mild cases can be overlooked.

How can you tell if your horse has a club foot? Typically the horse, when grazing, will stand with the club foot back and extend the normal foot. They often also lead with the normal foot and stumble on the club foot. Measuring the angle of the hoof to the ground can be useful as well, as a club foot will have an angle of more than 60 degrees. The heel on a club foot will be higher than the normal foot, and the hoof will also be narrower and have a smaller frog. Additionally, the shoulder of the normal side of the horse will be rounded, muscular and normal looking, while the shoulder of the club foot will appear to be sloping.

It is generally understood that a club foot can form when a horse is imbalanced, forming on the short side of the horse as a compensation. Therapeutic shoeing, often with pads to assist with the balance issue, can lead to miraculous results, making the horse more comfortable and sound. In very severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Because of the genetic implications, no horse with a club foot should ever be bred.

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30 Responses

  1. Tammy S. says:

    I’ve been looking for information about club foot but nothing I’ve found addresses a club foot in a hind leg like my young gelding has. Any info would be appreciated.

  2. Dani says:

    I have a club-footed horse and am trying to find something to help him. I thought about some form of solid bottomed rubber boot. Any suggestions where I may find this? Thank you.

  3. Danielle says:

    I know I am having the exact same problem. My mare has a club foot in her hind end also! Do you find anything out?

  4. Hi,
    This is not always correct about not breeding a horse with a club foot I put off for year breeding a QH mare that I own for that reason, so I finally took the risk as this mare was exceptional QH which wasn’t doing to much and bred her to an Andulsion.

    The foal was born and is now 2 years old with the most perfect feet I have seen in all of my warmblood and Irish Sports horses which were born that year a total of 8 foals.

  5. Nancy Ryan says:

    I am about to look at a Trakaner who the owner has just told me has a club foot but is sound. She does have a problem with him that she can’t seem to resolve. When he is lunged he picks up his canter on both leads very calmly but as soon as there is a rider on his back when asked to canter he bolts for about 5 strides and gets very excited. Could this have anything to do with his club foot. As an aside, he was shown on the jumper circuit for 3 years when he developed this habit. He is just turned 11 years old. Any comments would be greatly appreciated as I haven’t run into a club foot in all my 62 years of training horses or riding. Thank you.

  6. linda marsik says:

    I’ve had my club footed saddlebred for 10 years. i think it starts from the shoulder and manifest it’s outward appearance in his hoof. this shoulder is more upright than the other shoulder and therefor makes the leg seem shorter. he holds it under his body with very little pressure on the heal. thus it grows longer and leans on his other longer leg. the hoof of the longer leg is held far forward and causes an underrun heal from the constant pressure. i shoe him by keeping the club foot shoe forward so as not to ware his toe down while grazing. otherwise it just gets shorter and shorter. also this foot i use a pad to make his leg a little longer. and because he can’t move this shoulder forward as far as the other one (because he has it back underneath him most of the time) i want him to pick it up as soon as he can so i put a rocker on the toe. This helps his balance too while cantering. because the other hoof is out in front while grazing ,his heal is underrun. So on this foot i want an extra amount of protection under the heal. So I have the shoe set as far back as absolutely possible. He actually wears a larger size on this foot. while he’s in his stall i keep his hay and feed off the floor so that at least he stands correctly at night and this takes some pressure off the underrun heal side of his body. a club foot is a whole horse problem not just a hoof problem. it affects his hind quarters as well because of the way he balances himself all day while grazing. and i do alot of dressage exorcises for this and i don’t ride him over and over in small tight circle. The exorcises are very inportant and keep him from being overly crooked as a result of the club foot. I’ve had a check ligament desmotomy on the club footed leg and have had him to Michigan State University for torn ligaments on the underrun heal leg. My advise to anyone purchasing a horse is to always watch the horse grazing in a field. It is easy to detect.

  7. janine says:

    I had a similar problem with a gelding…turned out it was pain from the hocks (OCD). After surgery his behavior dissapeared. Talk to your vet – it is probably some pain he is experiencing.

  8. lori wolf says:

    we acquired a horse w/ club foot. the prev owners didn’t ride him for about a year then when they did he was tripping and seemed off balance. they had xrays and everything looked okay as far as a leg injury. i don’t know if they realized he had club feet. the horse has had the same ferrier his whole life and i believe he has been treating the club foot as needed. why would the stumbling start to be obvious now at age 16? we took the horse to same ferrier approx 5 wks ago and he put shoes on front. we want to ride him approx 2 miles today to another farm. is it safe if he’s only walking? he mostly only “stumbles/trips” when he trots or canters. please respond asap. i’ve got the fever to ride!!

  9. Sherri says:

    I have a 5 yr old WH mare who has a severe club foot or mabe its a stilt foot, it is completly turned under..I have pics if that would help…I am wanting to try & help her out…I know she will never be completly better, but some ideas on where to start to fix some of the problem would be great…I’d love to raise a colt out of her, but I’m thinking that the way she is now that this would be too much for her, I’d just love to help her in anyway, she is one of the most loving animals I’ve ever met! Thank you so much for your help.

  10. Tiffany says:

    I have an 8yr. old mare with a club foot. I’ve had her for a little over three years, the previous owner had surgery done on her as a 2yr. old to correct the foot. She hasen’t had any trouble with it at all untill about 3wks. ago. She has had the same farrier all her life, and has rarley needed shoes, so she was just trimmed last time. We went for a ride a few days later and she started a slight limp. I had the farrier out again about a week and a half later, and had front shoes put on her. She was fine for a few days, and then started a slight limp again. The weather cooled down and the limp seemed worse. The vet guessed that she is getting arthritis in her shoulder. She doesn’t favor her foot, and there’s nothing apparent wrong with her leg, it just seems to be her shoulder. But she’s only 8yrs. old, could it really be arthritis? She’s still got the silght limp after almost 4wks., but it doesn’t seem to be painfull or bothering her, she still runs around in the pasture. Is this a permanent problem resulting from her club foot?

  11. jeannie says:

    Just a note to say about supposedly “because of the genetic implications, no horse with a club foot should ever be bred” can you please explain to me why my TB mare has produced 2 foals (colt in 2006, filly in 2007) without the implication of “inheriting” any sign of a club foot from their mother? (Colt was sold to Singapore)

    Must be super lucky?

  12. karen says:

    Club feet can be genetic, but they can also be the result of poorly treated injury resulting in the horse favouring its heel long enough to change the hoof wear/growth pattern. Xrays will show if the club is genetic or due to injury/poor hoof care; for the later the joint spacing will be incorrect/uneven.

    I do not think there should be a problem breeding a horse with a “man made” club foot.

    if the club is genetic however, and you breed the horse that has it, this genetic flaw will be waiting to affect its foals, grandfoals, or great grandfoals. THe normal footed foals may not show the club foot, but they may still have the genes for it, and if bred to another horse that has the genes (but may or may not show it) then you will have another club footed foal. Why risk the subsequent generations?

  13. Cathy says:

    I have a club footed horse who has a “hitch” in his gait at the walk on that foot. Any shoeing suggestions to get rid of the “Hitch”?

  14. Karen says:

    I’ve adopted a habitat horse and she has a club foot. My farrier says that all her feet are like what they call mule feet, very small feet for her size. The right front is the worst, it’s clubed footed,caved in on the sides, and she’s toed out on top of that. The habitat doesn’t know anything about how old she may be for they found her a stray and a skeleton. But believes she’s around 4yrs old. My question is can surgery be done for her so that she can be ridden? Right now, my trainer says she limps with her on and seems to get worse the longer she has a rider. Please get with me soon for I’m at a standstill on what I should do. Thanks for any help! :)

  15. Larry Davis says:

    It would be my recomendation that you get a set of x-rays taken. Right now you are just guessing as to what the coffin bone looks like and how much sole depth is at the toe. Next after you have that info , trim the heel down as low as poss. take out the dish at the toe, keep it on a short trim cycle(2 to 4 wks)give it some time off, its probably sore at the toe.

  16. Anne says:

    Karen, that is a horse that should not be ridden. Even if your vet could sever the tendon to help the club foot it sounds like the damage is done. All of her feet have problems and at this point the is no doubt skeletal damage, probably arthritis and down the road navicular. That coffin bone will not be able to take too many more years of stress, imo, since it seems that it cannot take even several hours of riding.
    Maybe she could be a carriage horse or something. Her spine and conformation is probably a mess.

    I say no to the surgery, except to make her more comfortable, if it even will in the long term. But more rideable? I not only doubt it but can almost guarantee that horse will have a very short and painful riding career if you continue. She’s a rescue. God bless you for taking her in. Keep her but fine another horse to train and ride.

  17. Lindsey says:

    the soul purpose of saying horses with clubbed feet should not be bred is that if there is a chance of the foal inheriting club foot why take the chance.. the foal will ultimately end up in a bad way suffering with it, not being able to live a normal life and what kind of life is that. sure some people have had all the luck the first couple times breeding but that’s all it is, is luck and that doesn’t mean the next foal won’t have it.

  18. Richard Roberts says:

    As a farrier I have had great success with correcting club feet/hooves. I shoe these horses with a Natural Balance shoe a full wedge pad, 2 degree usually, , often with frog support, and Equithane packing or EDSS impression material. this approach has been very successful for me in making horses usable

  19. Carrie says:

    I own a OTTB mare that I’ve had for a few years now. My farrier has pointed out that she is slightly club-footed on the front left. She has always been a bit explosive but we’ve attributed it to other items: awful case of ulcers…went through Gastroguard treatment and now on a maintenance schedule with daily supps and UG before any stressful event; upward fixation of the patella…had the simple ligament (or is it tendon) splitting procedure; chiropractic/accupuncture treaments….etc. Anyway her problem is mainly at the canter but sometimes at the trot too. When she is lunged she picks up her canter on both leads very calmly but as soon as there is a rider on her back when asked to canter she bolts for a couple strides and gets very excited and sometimes crow hops, spins, stops and prances in place. If I keep trying I’ll get her into a controlled canter but then either she’ll brace herself agaginst my hands (i’m very light handed), she’ll crank her head sideways and gnaw at the bit or she’ll change her lead in the rear. It’s mostly on the left lead and it’s her left front that is clubbed. Could this have anything to do with her club foot. She is 12 years old. Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I’ve been through so much with this mare…I’d like to try and fix the problem if it’s fixable. Thank you

  20. Nathan says:

    I’ve got a six yr. old gelding quarter horse with a club foot on his front left hoof. His hoof looks like it grows in layers. The previous owner said it was from an injury as a colt. Trimming it seems to make him more sore and he’s figured out how to pull off the rubber boot I’ve tried to put on him. He’s got great personality and ambition, so I’d like to know what I can do, if anything, to make him “sound”. Let me know of any possibilities. Thanks.

  21. Mark M. says:

    Dash for Cash had a club foot and was one of the most highly bred quarter horses to have ever raced or sired. I spoke to the farrier that used to shoe him and he said that the horse ran faster when he left him natural and didn’t try to fix him. They bred the heck out of him. His offspring are still winning to this day. I also own a Dash for Cash granddaughter, she is 14 I use her for roping and she is still sound. Yes one of her feet is steeper in angle than the other. I do try and fix her with a 2 degree wedge bar pad and it seems to help her stride. To each their own.

  22. Tammy Huntridge-Hocking says:

    I have a 6 year old grandson of Hollywood Dun It with a slight club foot….
    So much for not breeding due to there club foot…
    Very mild corrective shoeing on his front… makes him comfortable and keeps him in the game!

  23. Cindy S. says:

    I have a 10 year old Dutch Warmblood who has a club foot bad enough they had to do surgery on his ligament when he was younger. I have known this horse for years through his previous owners. They attempted shoeing him and it was a nightmare! He’d pull shoes and lose what good growth he had, he was constantly lame, and always sore in his shoulder. Then they tried letting him go barefoot. He’s now schooling for fourth level dressage! I use a barefoot specialist who works with ‘natural hoof care’. http://www.barefoothorse.com/index.html It’s a different way than how farriers trim. They are not prepping for shoeing, they are prepping your horse according to the wild horse model.
    Also, to Carrie with the thoroughbred, I have an OTTB too. And we have had our bout of issues with the canter! My trainer has attributed this ‘excitement’ to racing and also to a slightly mare personality! She has pretty good feet but she will crow hop, tilt her head and gnaw… etc. Good luck!

  24. Roberts says:

    I recently bought a horse with a club hoof for a ranch horse. This is probably the best horse I have ever owned. She will trip after heavy riding (about 8 hours) and were talking working. Not just trail riding. She has had a bad hoof since birth. No, shell never be a show horse of have “proper conformation” because of how she moves on it. But I dont regret buying her at all. For all those people out there who say that the horse is “unusable”…thats not true. Do more research before you throw the horse away. My girl will pick up both her leads under saddle with only a little bit of hesitation on the bad hoof. My farrier and several vets have said shes not in any pain because she moves out fine. Sometimes the canters a bit choppy and i have to have her extend. I just bought this mare 3 months ago from someone who said she would never be a good horse. Best purchase of my life.

  25. Mike says:

    I own a tennessee walking horse and he is club footed. He is 6 years old and the woman I bought him from never broke him because she said it would be a waste of time. I broke him and have been riding him for 6 months and he is all natural gaited. He is the smoothest horse I have ever owned and he will ride all day in a four beat rack. He also has a beautiful headshaking running walk. This golden palomino walking horse was borne to ride. He rides like a experienced 10 yr old, so don’t give up on your horses. I even qual hunt with this horse.

  26. sue says:

    I had, and still have a TB mare that is club footed.She won races,and I never had any trouble with her feet.She never went lame,and never stumbled,she was the best horse to ride,and had such a smooth canter.My farrier used a full wedge pad with a frog support..My mare is now a broodmare,and has had 2 foals,that did not have clubbed feet.I traced her history back as far as I could,and her mother,grand mother,and great grand mother did not have clubbed feet.
    To people that say they can’t be fixed…and don’t breed from them !! I am so lucky I didn’t listen to them !! :-) and so is my horse !!

  27. Megan says:

    I have a 2 year old with a EXTREME case of “stilt hoof” both front, Here has had the operation on his tendon,for a small improvement but he is exceptional long legged with a lot of problems. due to bad conformation,(we saved him) please show me any more solutions I can try or I will have to get him put down,
    Thank you

  28. Kim says:

    I have a horse with a club foot, just got him. His thrush got out of control down to the sensitive portion of his frog. I clean it everyday and he has a hospital plate on it. I pack under the hospital plate. A month before the thrush truly appeared, he started becoming very bad when I tried to mount to ride. Also very touchy on his withers. Could this be related to the deep thrush?

  29. ashley says:

    I was wondering if anyone could help me out. Ive never dealt with a club foot in my life and have recently been given a very nice bred qh 3 yr old gelding that has a slight one. He seems to be fine with it but previous owner did not keep up with trimming. he really does seem to be slightly club footed, you can see it, its noticable. but i get such bad reviews from friends saying to not keep him because of it. is it harder to sell a club foot horse? do people see or read that and turn away? and really how expensive is it to have it taken care of? i mean he picks up his lead on it in the round pen (he is currently not broke) but he doesnt seem to stumble on it that i can tell. several people have looked at it and said just break him and use him. but i think that alot of people see or hear of one and think the worst. is it purely because of the extra money you have to put towards it sometimes?? he is a real sweetheart and i would love to give him a fighting chance on being something great in life since he is so young, but i am worried due to mixed reviews on if i should even take the chance.

  30. Brittany says:

    Ashley,

    Don’t give up on your gelding yet. Get some x-rays taken and see how severe it is. There are plenty of horses with club feet that don’t even need shoes, just a trim. I have an 8 year old club footed gelding and he is the best horse I have ever owned. Many people hear club foot and turn away, and that is okay with me. More good horses for those of us who are willing to pay $20 more every 6 weeks for a special trim.

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