From the November EVJ.  This study concludes that close to half of foals can develop club-footed tendencies early in life due to their conformation.  The full text of the study is available online at the journal’s website with a subscription:

http://www.evj.co.uk/index.htm

Uneven feet in a foal may develop as a consequence of
lateral grazing behaviour induced by conformational traits

M. C. V. VAN HEEL*, A. M. KROEKENSTOEL, M. C. VAN DIERENDONCK, P. R. VAN WEEREN and W. BACK
Derona Equine Performance Laboratory, Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 12,
NL-3584 CM Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Abstract:
Reasons for performing study: Conformational traits are important in breeding, since they may be indicative for performance ability and susceptibility to injuries.
Objectives: To study whether certain desired conformational traits of foals are related to lateralised behaviour while foraging and to the development of uneven feet.
Methods:
Twenty-four Warmblood foals, born and raised at the same location, were studied for a year. Foraging behaviour was observed by means of weekly 10 min scan-sampling for 8 h. A preference test (PT) was developed to serve as a standardised tool to determine laterality. The foals were evaluated at age 3, 15, 27 and 55 weeks. The PT and distal limb conformation were used to study the relation between overall body conformation, laterality and the development of uneven feet. Pressure measurements were used to determine the loading patterns under the feet.
Results:
About 50% of the foals developed a significant preference to protract the same limb systematically while grazing, which resulted in uneven feet and subsequently uneven loading patterns. Foals with relatively long limbs and small heads were predisposed to develop laterality and, consequently unevenness.
Conclusions:
Conformational traits may stimulate the development of laterality and therefore indirectly cause uneven feet.

13 Responses to “Tendency of Foals to Develop Club Foot due to Conformation”

  1. CB Says:

    Very interesting article which was linked to a forum for comment. Most people disagreed with it.
    This is what I posted……….

    Well having a horse that fits this bill I found this incredibly interesting reading.

    It is absolutely the same conclusion I have come to watching one of my Warmblood youngsters and what has happaned to his feet.

    History: Very large and long legged warmblood colt born. Obviously over the knee on the off fore.
    Vet consulted at 1 month who says horse will be fine and straigten up. Stop worrying.

    Feet religiously trimmed from 6 weeks old.

    Once the foal started to graze I notice that the
    off fore is always the forward foot.

    At about 3 months the feet start to change. The off fore starts to underrun very badly.
    Trimmer brings back toe and addresses this but every time we trim its the same.

    Near side hoof becomes very upright and starts to club.

    This boy is now a 17 hand plus 3 year old.

    He still favours the off fore when grazing.
    The off fore is still underrun. It is corrected at each trimming but becomes underrun again.
    Near fore is much more upright.

    Interestingly this horse is currently being used as a case study for a Horse Reiki student.
    Without being told anything about the horse she went over it to pick up spots that needed addressing.

    She told me that the off fore hock and stifle was a problem as was his fetlock on the off side.

    Bingo.!!!!! and 10 points to her. She picked up a lateral pattern.
    She was going over his body for heat but had not looked at his feet and did not notice them being a different size until I pointed them out.

    So I do agree with this article.

  2. Christina Says:

    Hi CB,
    And thanks for your comments. I think it’s most interesting that the author implicates breeding practices as at least one of the originating causes of this condition. It does seem like foals are bred to be very long-legged these days. It would be interesting if she were to pursue it further to try and determine why a particular leg is favored to be placed forward while the other one is placed backwards.

    Your description of how your colt’s feet developed follow right along with the stance he adopted. The forward foot will develop a crushed, underrun heel because all of the weight is on the heel, and the badkward placed foot will develop a high heel because there is no weight on the heel (and all on the toe). When there is no pressure on the tissues, they are allowed to grow profusely.

    If I were trimming such a foal, I would try and overcorrect the condition and perhaps trim more frequently than usual. I would trim the high-growing heel as low as possible as frequently as possible, and I would keep the underrun foot’s toe very short as well as ‘floating’ the quarters on that foot to try and keep the tubules from crushing. I would retrim as soon as the baby started showing a sign of not standing squarely. Perhaps some light bodywork to keep the muscles evenly developed would help too.

  3. emily Says:

    You helped me with my mare who had an icky fungal crud in her hooves and who also has front hooves contracted beyond the verticle. She is doing very nicely, or was until I let another farrier get ahold of her when I was having some health issues. I am straightening her back out.

    However, I have recently acquired an 18-month-old Arab colt that I have known for over a year. He has the grazing stance discussed in the article, and I have been doing what you recommended. Frequent trimming, heels on one side and toe on the other. He stands straight briefly, but not for long. He also has some cracks, flaring, and stretched white line from before I bought him, when he was only touched every 6 to 8 weeks.

    What kind of body work were you talking about? Chiro, massage, or a combination of both? He is just getting comfortable with me handling his feet, but I have been trying to do some basic stretching with him, without getting clobbered of course. Babies 🙂

  4. Christina Says:

    Hi Emily, glad to hear your mare is doing better. It would be great to see pictures of the contraction improving.

    Just to be clear, I am not the author of the article but I think I can answer some of your questions.

    In addition to trimming the heels and toe it is vital to address the sole and bars of the clubby or upright foot. If there is bar protruding to the level of the wall or even past it, this will cause pain and prevent the horse from weighting the heel which encourages it to grow faster than the other foot.

    I think in such cases massage would be the most beneficial because the shoulders tend to tighten up from this posture. Also, such treatments as myofascial release therapy, or acupuncture that will help muscles relax.

    Good luck with the colt.

  5. Ginger Says:

    Interesting study. The study indicates that close to 50% of foals “can” develop club feet, but doesn’t necessarily state that they actually do. What it states is that “50% of the foals developed a significant preference to protract the same limb systematically while grazing, which resulted in uneven feet and subsequently uneven loading patterns.” I’m curious… of those 50% of foals, how many actually resulted in a club foot, and did the problem correct itself as the foal matured and grew into its legs?

  6. Ginger Says:

    I’m sorry… let me ask this again. I meant to say… of those 50% of foals, how many actually resulted in a clubbed foot? And, did the problem of uneven feet and uneven loading patterns (or clubbing), correct itself as the foal matured and grew into its legs. Thanks.

  7. Christina Says:

    HI Ginger, I have posted the results of this study here on my blog for informational purposes but I don’t have access to any more information that what you see here. The full information is not available online and the researcher, M.C. Van Heel does not seem to be accessible via the internet. She has spoken at Cornell which might be a way to track her down. The full study is available in the Nov EVJ as I said in the post, but I don’t have access to that as I’m not a vet.

  8. Rocky Says:

    Hi,
    I have a three month old TB that is also favouring grazing with the near fore forward all the time resulting in the off fore growing upright.
    I’m wondering if there is a way to encourage grazing with the upright foot forward eg. taping the other foot so it’s not comfortable to to graze that way?..any suggestions please?

  9. Christina Says:

    Hi Rocky.
    I wouldn’t try any weird things like taping but I would definitely have a barefoot trimmer or highly skilled farrier take a look at the trim job. What I would do is closely examine the bottom of that right front, and look for long bars already. Believe it or not, a 3 month old foal can have it. If they’re there, smooth them down. Also, lower the heels as much as reasonably possible – often (2-3 wks) until the stance evens out. Usually I find after the first trim on a foal about this age, if it is done correctly (meaning addressing the bars) it doesn’t need more correction again because the foot spreads open and starts growing. The baby foot tends to grow this way because they are usually not on 24 hr turnout and in soft footing, both inside the stall and in turnout.

    Other things I would investigate is som body work, maybe have a chiropractor once to check him out. The act of birthing can cause subtle problems that can cause these imbalances.

  10. Rocky Says:

    Thanks Christina,
    Sorry I should have said that we’ve already trimmed the bars and the heel right down on the upright foot and left the foal tip as long as possible and trimmed the nearfore normally but more off the toe than the other one.
    He’s been out 24/7 the last month and the ground has been dry here the last two months.
    But he still favours the nearfore when grazing and I think it’s just habit now so was trying to think of a way to break the habit.
    It’s worrying that all the time he favours one foot forward we are struggling against time to correct it successfully 😦
    I’ll ask my friend who is a chiropractor to have a look at him for me too.
    Thanks 🙂

  11. Christina Says:

    Hi Rocky.
    It does sound like the trimming has been done correctly. If you like you can send me pictures (clear, of the bottom of the foot) for a second opinion. Also I think the chiropractic will be very helfpful.

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