Proper Hoof Heel & Toe Length

Hoof length refers to how much wall is present. Your farrier will remove excess length from around the entire perimeter of the foot or as needed from just the toe or heel. Every horse has an optimum heel-toe length ratio although there are no objective studies to provide guidance. As a basic guideline, the toe should be approx 4 times the length of the heel. For example a foot with a 3 ¼ inch toe wall length, fairly common for an approximately 15-16 hand horse, might have a heel length (also called heel “height”) of just under 1 inch.

Along toe is usually easy to identify, particularly if the toe horn becomes dished. A dish is the term used to describe a depression of the toe wall. A slight dish may be a subtle depression in the middle of the hoof wall at the toe or it may include a grossly distorted toe wall that curves up like a ski tip.

Long heel is not always easy to see on first glance if it is under-run.  A long heel may be commonly interpreted as “no heel” because it is crushed underneath the foot, out of view. In the case of under run heel, we observe the heel bulb dropped almost or entirely on the ground. The way to identify long under run heel is to look very closely at the wall horn in the heel and quarters. Follow the horn tubules from hairline to the ground: if under-run, the tubule angle will be almost parallel to the ground. If normal, the tubule angle will be more upright, almost, but not quite, parallel to the dorsal hoof wall tubule alignment.

Long but not under-run heel is easy to see. The horse will look tall in the back of the foot, like he is wearing high-heeled shoes. Look at the heels from behind the horse, standing on a flat surface. You will see space between the base of the frog and the ground. Sometimes you could stick several fingers in that space. If the whole foot is too long, heel and toe, you’ll get the impression that the whole horse is too high off the ground, like he is wearing platform shoes.

Sometimes feet grow long and remain reasonably free from distortion. In such feet a well-trained eye is needed to detect potential problems. Typically, excess length will display noticeable signs such as flares, cracks, and dishing. A flare is usually seen on the sides of the hoof when wall on one side is longer and tends to curve in or out. One crack or even multiple cracks may appear anywhere in the hoof wall but most commonly they are seen in the quarters.

Flaring, cracking, or dishing all suggest that the hoof is out of balance which can happen in feet that are too long or too short. However any single piece of evidence is usually not enough to define the problem. How do you differentiate between too long and too short? You look at multiple indicators of balance. After you have read all my blogs on hoof balance the heel-to-toe length ratio will make more sense. For now, keep in mind that an average 15-16 hand horse with a healthy foot will rarely have a hoof wall length exceeding 3-½ inches of at the toe.

Check to see how long your horse’s toe and heel are right before a trim or shoeing, and how long they are immediately after the appointment. Usually about ¼ inch is taken off at a regularly scheduled appointment. Some horses compensate better than others as the feet get long between appointments. If your horse stays well balanced as the feet grow there will be less stress on the feet and joints than if the feet have significantly more toe than heel (or vice versa) when it comes time for the next appointment. In the case of disproportionate grow your horse may do best with more frequent farrier appointments which will minimize how far off balance the feet get during each shoeing interval.


Copyright © 2012 ~ Dr. Lisa Lancaster DVM, WDAA Blog Author



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