After pussy footing around and skirting sensitive issues with delicate statements, there finally comes a time when the only thing to do is to be brutally honest, and this certainly applies to the club footed horse. I have written several articles on how to maintain the club footed horse, and I have always stated categorically that the owner has to realise that a club footed horse is a high maintenance horse for life.
However, I still receive more queries about club footed horses than about any other hoof problem. The queries are generally raised because the owner is about to buy the horse, or has bought the horse, or wants to breed from the horse or the foal has just arrived. The hoof is always ‘a little boxy’ and the query is always ‘but it can be fixed cant it?
The brutal truth is NO a club foot can’t be fixed, and YES it will be a club foot for life.
It is usually impossible to get into a discussion of what has caused the club foot, as the owners of both sire and dam will vigorously deny that any history of club footedness ever existed back along both lines. However, the brutal truth is that most club feet are genetic and while it may have skipped one or two or even three generations, it will eventually resurface.
I have one client with two mares, the mother with sound feet and the daughter with a club foot which the owners had assumed was a non-genetic deformity. Now both mother and daughter have produced foals each with one club foot. I first saw the foals when they were four weeks old, and commented on the club feet which had not been noticed by the owners. On measuring the bottom of the hoof with the HOOF-LINE, it was impossible to achieve balance in the clubbed foot. As the foals have grown older, the hooves have become more clubbed and harder to achieve anything close to a balanced measurement. As mature horses these two foals will be definitely club footed – one is a colt, the other is a filly, and they will probably both be bred from if they are sold, thus perpetuating the problem.
The club foot can range from those that are barely noticeable to the extreme of the foot pointing backwards. But the barely noticeable club foot may come out in a later generation as an extreme club foot.
It is also totally unfair to blame the farrier for the club foot. Many owners are totally unaware that their foal has a club foot until it is pointed out to them, often after 12 months or more. High heels in a normal hoof are very different from the high heels of a club foot, and poor trimming does not result in a club foot. Poor trimming can be corrected, whereas a club foot cannot be corrected.
In the genetic club footed horse, the cannon bone of the clubby foot is slightly shorter and so too is the tendon shorter than the normal leg. Thus the heel will always be taller and the toe will always be shorter than the normal leg. Efforts to lower the heel only ever produce stress in the tendon, and possible lameness until the heel re-grows to contact the ground. If we try and encourage toe length to force the heel down, it immediately flares at the toe and causes hoof wall separation in that area.
However, if we simply balance the club foot, and put it where nature intended it to be, the horse will be sound but will have an uneven gait and will ALWAYS have an uneven gait because the club foot steps slightly shorter. The club footed hoof is a high maintenance hoof and generally this hoof will need to be re-balanced at much shorter intervals than the normal hoof to maintain soundness.
In an ideal world, IF we could view the hooves of both parents AND the four grandparents when purchasing a horse, then it may be possible to avoid buying a club footed horse. But since that is generally not possible, then why would anyone want to part with money for a horse with a hoof that ‘is a little boxy’.
If you want a horse for competition of any sort, for breeding or for showing, then no matter how nice an eye that horse has, or how good its breeding sounds, or how nice its nature is, you MUST start by looking at the hooves. In my mind, it is insanity to buy any horse without seeing it in the flesh, but if you really must do this then ask for photographs of the horse on a hard level surface (not in four inches of grass), ask for a video of the horse working, ask for close-up photos of the hooves, ask for photos of the soles as well, and ask on internet forums for any information on other progeny.
If this all sounds so obvious, then why do so many people ask me whether I can fix their club footed horse so they can use it for dressage, or for breeding or for showing? A club foot is a DEFORMITY and for any horse to win at top level competition it needs every possible advantage and no drawbacks.
The only way to stop continuing problems with club footed horses is not to breed from them. After 11 months of gestation, it is a costly and heart breaking exercise if it results in a club footed foal. If you do have a club footed foal then do the right thing and don’t breed from it. If only everyone had the courage to do this, then the problem of club feet would diminish.