Underrun Heels Explained
Part 3

030 Underrun heels Explained part 3 fb

What’s happening to the internal structures in a horse with underrun heels and how do the forces on the hoof capsule help or hinder the recovery?

In part 1 we looked at the hoof capsule,
In part 2 we looked at the position of the internal structures,
Now let’s look at how they go together…

When the heels have underrun the laminar that grow the hoof wall are pointing forwards more than they should be. This causes the heel purchase (bit the horse should be landing on) to be further forwards. In part 2 I showed how this has a negative effect on the pedal bone, but what does it do to the other internal structures?

Underrun heels 01

I’ve rotated and marked up the photo of the foot with the horn at the heels missing to show what affect ground forces may have. The yellow line shows where the ground level usually is for a horse with underrun heels. Obviously it’s not exact, it will depend how long the heels get.

The blue arrow is showing where the direction of pressure is going for the horse who is landing correctly and while standing. You can see how the pressure will actually be pushing the heels further underrun (but just a little bit more).

While this looks bad, if you can get a correct landing, and provide enough healthy stimulation to the frog, and thus the digital cushion and lateral cartilage, then you’ll find the heels will recover in spite of the slightly less than ideal direction of pressure.

The important part is getting the healthy stimulation on the soft structures. While they are soft – they’re also remarkably strong and hold the shape of the hoof together far more than we give them credit for!

If a horse is landing more heavily on the heel, and it’s highly likely they are, then there’s going to be a problem. Often the easiest way to spot an excessive heel first landing is when a horse is walking towards you. They’re flicking their toes in the air just before they land. (sometimes this is mistaken for good extension or ‘floaty paces’)

Look at the hooves, if you can see any sole or a dark shadow under the foot as they land, then they could well be landing excessively on the heel.

The orange arrow shows the direction of force on the hoof when there is an excessive heel first landing. It’s easy to see how this will crush the heels underneath themselves, thus causing and increasing underrun heels.

You can feel this for yourself, if you like. Right now! Stand up. Yep, I mean it! Up on your feet give this a go – I promise it’s not going to be like an exercise video, or anything 🙂 (though now I think about it, the idea of a bunch of people all over the world standing up and jumping about while reading this post makes me smile!!)

You need to be wearing shoes for this. Walk a few steps normally with a slight heel first landing. You’ll feel your foot slipping forwards very slightly in your shoe, or your shoe is being pushed backwards. That’s normal heel first landing and stimulates the heel structure just how we want it.

Now walk a few steps, but just before your foot reaches the ground, flex you ankle as much as possible so you land more to the back of your heel. You’ll feel your shoe pressing up against your heel and your shoe is being pushed forwards.

If your shoe were a hoof capsule, it would be underrunning.

There’s a number of ways of trimming underrun heels to correct them (allegedly), most of which involve taking the heels lower than they should be. For me, this raises a number of questions…

1. If the problem is caused by how the horse is walking, how can it be fixed with trimming?

2. The lower you take the heels, the further back the heel purchase is, so you’re putting the pressure on the back of the laminar, increasing the crushing effect, so how are you helping?

3. What caused the problem in the first place? What have you done to address it?

4. Your solution should address the cause of your problem… If your solution is to trim the heels lower than normal, then the problem you’re addressing is that the heels weren’t trimmed lower than normal… Does ‘lack of the heels being too low’ cause underrun heels?

So some of those questions sound fairly ridiculous, I know that… But they’re kinda valid… Just because something is being done all the time, doesn’t mean it’s well thought through!

I completely believe underrun heels can be fixed, I just don’t think it’s achieved by trimming tricks. A good trim is essential, of course, but that doesn’t mean the trim is the driving force behind the hoof recovering. Similarly I don’t think shoes improve things all that much.

Stimulating the frog, digital cushion and lateral cartilages in the right way, by using a balanced trim, exercise, nutrition, and correct movement is what I think is going to get you the results you’re after. The really good news, is 3 of those 4 things are completely in your control…

Did you miss the other parts to this Underrun Heels Explained series?
Part 1
Part 2

Does your horse have underrun heels?
Do you know a horse with this problem?
Has this post helped you understand why it’s happening?

Let me know in the comments below

Debs

418 Shares
  • Rachel Mander says:

    Hi there
    I have an ex racehorse with underun heels he’s had shoes off for five weeks now. In fact underun and overlapping. I’ve taken the overlap off so I can now see the triangle bit (seat of corn ..?) whereas I couldn’t before. Toe is back to just infront of white line. Was it correct to take the overlap off? I hope so….seemed the correct thing to do.I haven’t gone harshly just mms. To be honest there isn’t much foot anyway. He’s getting mms of good growth from the coronet . Exercised with boots,turned out for 10 hours (he can’t cope with more as not used to it yet)
    Good nutrition and a big dose of optimism from me.
    I am not a trimmer but have been doing my own horses and many transitions for about 15years.
    I hope you don’t mind advising me.
    Regards
    Rachel

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      Hey Rachel,

      I don’t mind advising, but it’s hard to do (well) without being there 🙂 If your horse is comfortable, then you probably haven’t gone too far wrong. Some methods try to get that triangle by taking the heels low (usually too low) and I find this causes a whole pile of problems. You often have to do the best you can with what you’ve got when it comes to underrun heels as often you don’t have much foot to work with.

  • Sue says:

    I guess I missed something? So how do you trim to reduce the underrun heel? That’s all I need to know.

  • Sven says:

    I agree with Sue, I still don’t get how to trim and correct this. I know two horses off the top of my head that are underrun.

  • Teri says:

    I have a 6 yr old quarter horse whose farrier let him get way under run, causing flair and eventually a horrid center crack up to his coronet band on both front feet. One has heeled the other is taking extensive repair and time. Changes carriers and this guy hot shoes him, and is standing him back up. His flair is disappearing, but one hoof is still fighting the crack. He widened it, put a drain in, filled it in and out a metal piece over top. He is still lame but not nearly as much. What can I do to keep a farrier from letting my horses get under run again? They won’t listen. This new guy is very good but expensive. I can’t afford to use him on my whole herd.

  • Jenn Hebert says:

    First, love your blog, its a great balance (pun intended) of fun and great info. Do you have any pics of under run heels where they have overlapped? I think that is what I’m dealing with but I can’t find any visual reference and text descriptions just make my head spin. Its like the ‘seat of corn’ and ‘bars’ don’t exist on this horse! Thanks and keep up the blogging!

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      Yes, I do. I’ll dig them out. I found that they don’t photograph very well. 2 horses I’ve been working with recently have both grown out exactly what you’re describing. I spent ages trying to get a good photo but it never really showed what I was trying to show. Even swearing at the camera didn’t help! The folded over bit was still folded over, but the new growth coming through was at a much better, straight angle. When I had enough growth, I trimmed off the folded over bit. If you can get the ground reactive forces going in the right direction, the hoof responds by growing in the right direction.

      I do like a good pun, so thanks for that :)

  • Kara says:

    Hi there,

    Thank you for your informative article. You mention that three of the four ways to correct underrun heels is within our control. Do you have any suggestions for stimulating the frog and digital cushion on a horse who is landing toe first to avoid pressure on heels which are underrun? Horse is barefoot, turned out 24/7 and taken for walks about 4 days a week. Diet is correct and balanced.

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      Yes, boots and therapeutic pads help a lot http://www.equinepodiatrysupplies.co.uk/Pads/EPS-7lb-Pads
      Keep them off sand if there is a deep central sulcus (if the bit in the middle of the frog looks like a slit – it should look like a thumb imprint)
      Shoulder stretches. A toe first landing causes the shoulder to lock up. A tight shoulder causes a toe first landing, so once you have a toe first landing, it’s a self perpetuating problem. I’ve seen a hooves absolutely transformed by doing nothing more than a shoulder stretch. (well – the diet was already sorted, at that point adding in the should stretch got amazing results.)

      • Jane says:

        I also have a mare that has underrun heels and elongated hooves from 3 years of bad shoeing. I now have her barefoot, am trimming her toes back to where they should be. She lands toe first too. Thinking back she has probably been doing this even when she still had shoes on. I found that when she wears boots (I don’t have pads yet), the landing is slightly better, where she lands more often flat. What shoulder stretches do you recommend ? And would the pads add to the improvement ? Can you get these pads in the US (I actually live in Costa Rica where you cannot get anything, but can have friends from the US bring stuff down for me). Thank you. I love your blog.

        • Debs Crosoer says:

          Yes, the pads would help. They would help put some pressure on the heel structures to strengthen them, they’d also absorb some of the extra concussion caused by a toe first landing. You can get them in the US, but I don’t currently know a supplier to recommend. If you find one, please let me know as I’m often asked.

          Most commonly I’d use a simple shoulder stretch to pull the leg forward. Make sure your posture is good and supporting your back, and you’re breathing properly. Don’t pull the leg with your bodyweight.

  • Claire says:

    My mare has under run heels. She has never been shod, has plenty of walking out in hand, has 24hr hay, lives on a track system 3/4 of which is hard core, is fed a small amount of hard feed (barefoot friendly) but I have also tried 6months without this which made no difference to her feet. She can self select willow, hawthorn, rose hip, birch, thistle, gorse and many many more. She is trimmed every 2 weeks but there is no improvement. I decided to boot her on the track a few days ago and intend to fill the sole part of the boot with sheeps wool to stimulate the sole/frog. Will this help? Anything else you can suggest. Really pulling my hair out as I feel I have tried everything including spending thousands on creating the track!!!!

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      You seem to have all the obvious stuff covered, so the problem is likely very specific to your horse, which makes it difficult for me to be helpful through the medium of a blog. I’ve never tried sheeps wool as a pad. The ideal pad is able to absorb excessive pressure, but also deliver enough pressure to stimulate the hoof. I love these pads http://www.equinepodiatrysupplies.co.uk/Pads/EPS-7lb-Pads

      Why is she trimmed every 2 weeks? That’s a pretty short trim cycle, is she growing fast?

  • Susanne Armstrongbates says:

    Hi, I’m struggling to know if my QH has under run heels or not, plus flair on his front feet. Backs seem good fronts not do much. My trimmer has s background of my Dad taught me on the ranch and no professional certificate – not that that makes much difference sometimes. Would love to be able to send in photos and compare against others photos for folks to consider. Love the blog!

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      I’ve emailed you, if you want to send me photos, you can email them directly in a reply 🙂 Flare and underrun heels often go together.

      I’m glad you’re loving the blog 🙂

  • Nola Gray says:

    Very clearly explained thank you . I have a 13 yr old ex NH mare who has not been ridden since I got her at 5 years , out of training . Shortly after I got her , she had an accident in the field which left her with fractured withers , she has never been comfortable to be ridden since . I have done ground work with her and she has access to a field or track 24/7, depending on how wet it is . She is regularly trimmed and is on low sugar forage and a mineral balanced diet and has been barefoot now for 7 years . She still has underrun heels although I have always tried to keep her toes back . Have I not backed them up enough do you think ? We now have found a reliable and sympathetic farrier to trim for us ( arthritic back finally gave up ! ) and he said it can be that some thoroughbreds have just ” the feet bred out of them “. Do you think that is the case ? She is very well bred with good conformation but does have longish pasterns . Can that contribute to underrun heels or is it not connected ?

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      I wouldn’t blame the long pasterns or the breeding in the first instance. I’d look for gut problems first, and any connected inflammation. It’s possible the broken withers has caused a gait abnormality that results in underrun heels, but… It’s such a common problem in TB’s, I think I’d look to the most common causes and solutions for TB’s which tend to be gut. I don’t think they’ve had their feet bred out of them as such, I think the way their develop as a foal, leaves their gut under developed, so even when you feed the ‘right’ things, sometimes you don’t get what you need, so you need to be that extra bit ‘perfect’

  • Hi Debs, yes the visual, along with your explanation, helps me understand far more then I have ever understood in the past.

  • Evette says:

    Your part 3 article cites heavy heel landings however, my horse is landing toe first thus causing his underrun heels. My trimmer has me riding him in boots that encourage a heel first landing. His front frogs have always been skinny. We are waiting to see if he improves with the boots.

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      Yes it can happen, it depends what else is going on. If there is heel pain you’ll get a toe first landing. The heels can also collapse due to lack of stimulation. So many ways it can go wrong… 🙂

  • Sue Whicker says:

    Hi Debs, what process do you use in order to correct under run heels/to running forward. Thanks for the articles, they are very interesting.

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      I work to address the health issues in the horse, use boots and pads where necessary to protect new growth and weak internal structure, and stimulate good healthy structure. I make sure the diet and gut function is as good as we can get. I often reduce the level of work the horse is in, depending on how much work he was in, and how bad the heels are. If healing is the priority, then rest is good. If strengthening is the priority then exercise is good. If there’s a gait abnormality then I’ll have that looked at too. Or if it’s caused by saddle fit, I’ll get that looked at.

  • >