Contracted heels can be the end result of many different factors. They are not typical of any particular breed or conformation and may occur anywhere. Sometimes it begins from birth when the foal has very upright pasterns; this condition then allows the heels to grow longer than the toes causing a very upright appearance.
The result then, if it is not corrected, is that the frog loses its pressure contact with the ground, then it also begins to contract or shrink and this causes the hoof capsule to become even narrower across the heel. This whole shrinking process may have only taken a few months to get to what now looks like ‘donkey footed’ in appearance, but will take a lot longer to return to normal, with the aid of careful trimming.
Sometimes as a result of hoof or leg injury, the horse will begin to step short with one leg. This will cause the toe to wear excessively and allows the heel to grow long. Left uncorrected for any length of time the hoof soon becomes contracted because of lack of frog pressure on the ground. Probably the most common cause of contracted heels in horses of all ages and breeds is from the effects of shoeing and trimming, the reason being that not nearly enough care and attention is exercised when preparing the hoof.
If we don’t strive to achieve the correct balance at this stage, we end up with long toes, putting excessive pressure on the heels and they collapse and roll in. Or we end up with the opposite problem, short toes and high heels, which lifts the frog off the ground and the heels begin to contract or become narrow. Both of these problems are completely avoidable just by being careful when preparing the hoof at the trimming stage. The ‘near enough is good enough’ attitude will eventually result in collapsed or contracted heels and a crippled horse.
If you find that nothing seems to work, here is one method I have been using to correct contracted heels on a two year old colt; apparently his heels began to contract after some tendon damage. The usual tactics of lowering the heels to get frog pressure or ground pressure didn’t work, while fitting a half shoe to allow his toes to grow while still trimming away the heel improved things a bit, but too slowly, and it seemed that the area the colt lived in was quite soft and damp and was having no impact on his frog. All this really got the brain cells working and I remembered the anchor bar shoe. I have only ever used this type of shoe once before, ages ago, and it certainly had a positive result then.
To avoid lameness it is best to fit the first anchor bar shoe with minimal frog pressure, as this is a radically different weight bearing shoe, and then after two weeks to increase the thickness of the bar to apply constant but comfortable pressure on the frog. The result is that no matter what the ground conditions are, the hoof capsule will expand at the heels.
In the photos you can see how and why this shoe works, by controlling the wear factor at the toe while leaving the rear of the hoof wall unsupported to move freely under the influence of controlled frog pressure.
After a short time the frog will become strong enough to allow you to go back to a normal style of shoe, but you will probably always have to keep trimming this hoof strongly at the heel. At the time of this report the colt is about two shoeings away from wearing a normal shoe, so it is on track.