Heel First?

The natural tendency for shod horses, is to land on the toes first. According to a farrier I spoke to recently, the correct way for horses to place their feet is completely flat – all in one go, as it were! Although the first situation is a fact, the second is sadly nothing more than a typical misconception propagated within the farriers’ profession.

Both these ways of putting the feet down have the undesired effect of sending a percussion shock through the bones of the foot right up into the shoulder which can result in damage to the shoulder joints and even the back. Try it for yourself: walk at a reasonable pace landing equally on the front and back of your feet – after a while it will be very tiring and you will start to feel the effects in your hips.

Many proponents of natural hoofcare will tell you that a horse should land on its heels: although this is also not correct, it is certainly closer to the truth. The heel of a horse is actually further back up the leg than we imagine – what we are actually looking at is the phalanges and the metacarpals/metatarsals.

When a horse lands (correctly) – and certainly at speed – it is more likely to land on the outer edge of the palm first; to be specific, when viewed in human terms , on the fleshy part of the hand just under the little finger or the outside of the foot, opposite the ball. This is also how we land when we move at speed. In the first film we can see the adverse effect of wearing shoes – the graph shows the force experienced by the leg on landing with an extra blip as weight is transferred from the back to the front of the foot:

Shod Heel Strike Running with Force – Slow Motion

This second film is the bare foot and we can see straight away that the tendency is to land on the outside part of the foot in front of the arch and then roll onto the toes. We also see a much smoother force curve:

Barefoot Forefoot Strike Running with Force – Slow Motion

Although the horse leg is not built the same as the human leg, the forces experienced are. As are the differences in force when comparing how the foot lands. However, just as it is difficult to learn to walk differently, it is difficult to teach our horse to walk “properly” – if he slaps his feet down flatfootedly then there is little you can do to get him to walk any other way.
On the other hand, by shoeing our horse, we will certainly exacerbate the tendency for the hoofs to land toe first.