Runaway Heels and How They Slowly Crawl Back

I’ve often said that at least 70% of the horses I see have underrun heels. It’s so prevalent that a friend of mine stated that they believe that hoof boot companies should start making boots specifically for such horses. I tend to agree. Instead of making boots only for that horse with great feet, someone needs to create boots that are designed to fit horses with long toes and heels that are pulled tragically forward. No heat fitting or cussing required. Believe me, there is a HUGE market. But, until that happens what do we do?

How I treat these hooves: My protocol for underrun heels and long toes is pretty much my protocol for hooves in general.

  • Remove as much sugar as practical from the diet. Soak hay if possible and necessary per your hay analysis, graze at the low sugar time of day and clean up your treat game.
  • Promote movement. Use your horse as much as you can as long as your horse is comfortable. Feed away from the water source so your horse has to move. Use boots as necessary for comfort.
  • Get your horse comfortable, especially at the rear of the foot. Use boots & pads or pea gravel to develop the foot, and treat any thrush/fungus.
  • Look at getting your hay tested. Review the mineral & vitamin content and consider using a good low sugar, low grain supplement. Don’t go crazy, just talk to your friends, do your research and pick one.
  • And finally trimming…
Note that the above list is in the order of my priorities. Removing sugar and getting your horse to move comfortably are the highest priorities, then worry about supplements and fancy trimming methods.

How I trim for underrun heels is my standard trim, seeing that 70% of the horses I treat suffer with this issue. Trimming a “normal” foot is the rarity. Pretty much every trimmer I know of generally trims the same way for this issue:

  • Pull the toe back. Start the roll or bevel at the water line at a minimum.

  • Put breakover in its proper location. Attempt to position the breakover point as close as possible to the location where it would be on a healthy foot.
  • Put a mustang roll or bevel all the way back to the end of the heel buttress

My addition to the “standard” trim is to clean out the seat (seed) of corn area where the hoof wall and bar meet. I remove any folded over bar and proceed to work this corner with my loop knife until the corner actually meets the junction of the bar and hoof wall. Most of the time the heel tubules will be smashed to ground parallel in this area and are actually folded over the sole of the hoof. This most likely will continue unless you religiously perform this clean up. You may be surprised at how much sole is exposed and how far back you will end up moving the heel buttress with this technique. By doing this step and bevelling the outer heel wall you maintain heel height yet remove as much folded tubule material as possible.

Now what? You wait. As with any hoof ailment, it takes a long time to grow a new hoof capsule. Maybe a year, heck maybe longer. As for what causes underrun heels, well I’ve not seen a true consensus. Diet, wall separation, lack of movement, weak back of foot, slamming of the heel to escape frog area pain etc. What I do know is that following a protocol that improves the health of the horse pretty much fixes every hoof issue, including underrun heels. Oh, and did I mention time? Patience is key. I can’t tell you how many times clients tell me that nothing is changing with the hooves despite our hard work. Then “suddenly” a year later they notice that the hooves are sitting in the mid 50’s angle range and a miracle has happened!

Anyway, always look to improving the health of your horse if hoof issues appear. You will hardly ever go wrong…oh, and…wait for it… be patient.


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Jay DeHart
Stevensville, Montana
Former Farrier...turned Barefoot Trimmer, Specializing in Hoof Rehab
After learning to shoe horses and not totally believing in the concept, I found the barefoot trimming method and never put shoes on another horse.