It seems there’s a lot of debate about how a horse should be landing their hooves. Should they be heel first? Flat? Toe first? Well… In short… Yes.
Seasoned readers of this blog won’t be surprised when I say that we need some context here.
A Sound Horse
A sound horse should be able to land heel first, flat, toe first, laterally and medially. Essentially, they should be able to land on any part of their hoof, as necessary for the movement and the ground conditions.
It’s really only a problem if there is part of the hoof the horse is avoiding using, as this suggests pain in the area. It also results in poor development of the hoof structures.
The human eye doesn’t process information quite fast enough for us to properly spot lameness. This is why some people are better at seeing it than others, and why we find that video and other gait analysis tools not only helpful, but often give us all sorts of information that we didn’t realise we were missing.
Slowing a video down can be very helpful for seeing what is going on, but it’s also worth considering that we use our hearing more than we realise, and we lose that information in a slowed down video.
Our own human limitations aside, lets consider how the horse moves.
How A Horse Lands
On a flat, hard surface in a reasonably active walk, in a straight line, a horse should be landing very slightly heel first. This can look like it’s a flat landing because the human eye is not the best at seeing these things.
As a horse speeds up, the heel landing becomes more exaggerated. In a galloping horse you’ll see a very obvious heel landing (well, you will in photos, they may be moving too fast for you to be sure what you’re seeing as they zoom past)
Collected work will require more of a toe first landing. Try it yourself if you want - walk up and down on a spot, and see if you land heel or toe first. Extended work will have them landing more on the heel.
If a horse is backing up, they’ll be landing toe first. Again, try it.
If a horse is turning to the right, they’ll be landing laterally on the right feet and medially on the left feet. Similarly, if turning to the left, they’ll be laterally on the left feet and medially on the right feet.
How The Ground Affects Their Landing
If walking across an incline, they’ll be landing on the side of the hoof that is to the higher side of the incline - always worth considering if you do a lot of road work, as the camber of the road has a reasonable effect, and the incline is always the same way.
If a horse is going uphill you’ll have a toe first landing and if they’re going downhill, it will be heel first, or exaggerated heel first depending on how steep the hill is.
If a horse is slowing down (gently) they will likely be a little toe first because a short stride is often toe first. This applies if they’ve shortened their stride for ground surfaces too, like if it’s muddy, or an uneven/unstable surface.
This means that during a full walk up (walk away, turn and come back) a perfectly sound horse will have shown strides where they land heel first, toe first, medially and laterally.
Measuring Their Landing
Using the Hoofbeat software which measures the hoof landing of a horse, shows this quite clearly.
It will show that a horse is landing predominantly 1 way which is usually how they’re landing in a straight line, because they’ll have done more strides in a straight line, but it also shows a range of different landing points.
The only time you have a landing map that shows the horse is landing in exactly the same place every time, is in a lame horse, because they are avoiding certain areas.
Where To Focus
Maybe we should stop focusing so much on saying a horse should land on a particular area, and look at whether there’s a particular area they’re avoiding.
Are they avoiding landing on the heel, or breaking over on the quarters (side of the hoof) or avoiding pressure on the toe?
These are the things we need to look for!