My horse has a club foot. Can it be treated?

Surgery often a necessity for a horse with a club foot.
Surgery often a necessity for a horse with a club foot. - Smerikal

Farrier authored badge

There are three general causes of club feet: genetic, nutritional, and grazing stance (with one foot forward and one back) – and a combination of these.

Club feet are more common in some breeds and in specific bloodlines within those breeds. Their incidence is very low since it is a recessive trait, according to University of Missouri’s Dr. John Lasley.

Editor's note

Early treatment is critical for a horse born with a clubbed foot. If your new-born foal has an asymmetrical upright hoof, get your farrier involved immediately.

In my experience they are more common in the Arabian, Morgan and Saddlebred breeds – in that order. However, I have seen and been involved in treating club feet in Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Warm Bloods, especially in certain bloodlines.

Over feeding foals and weanlings can produce the condition in any breed, especially when rapid growth genes are present. Horses that have been on restricted diets and then fed ad libitum (free choice) are especially susceptible according to Dr. Harold Hintz of Cornell University.

Club feet are always a problem to maintain even though subcarpal check ligament desmotomy surgery is usually successful with proper after care including exercise. Even with surgery, these animals require constant maintenance and are rarely completely sound in stance or movement.

By correcting and maintaining them, and then showing or racing them, owners desire to breed those that do well and thereby pass along the genes for this serious foot defect to vex the next generation of farriers.

We probably see more club feet at our school than the average farrier due to referrals. And we live in an area where people often wait longer before noticing that their horse’s feet need attention. Waiting to address this foot problem tends to make the condition worse and leads to a shortening of the deep flexor muscles.

We have had good success in treating the condition by gradually lowering the heels and stretching the deep flexor muscle bellies in foals. If the condition persists after weaning, surgery will probably be needed. Forced but limited daily exercise is essential to success.

Be aware that horses that develop a club foot will always have one foot smaller than the other, have a weak toe that may need the protection afforded by a shoe if ridden, may have limb length disparity, are usually uneven in their gaits, and must be frequently maintained.

About the Author

Doug Butler, PhD, CJF, FWCF

Author picture

His books, including "The Principles of Horseshoeing," are the most widely used in the world on the subject of farriery. A popular speaker, Dr. Butler has spoken at many national horse symposiums and has been a featured speaker at Veterinary Congresses in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and Switzerland. He has addressed the AAEP and the first Florida Association of Equine Practitioners Conference.

Dr. Butler holds many unique distinctions, including:

  • One of less than 1 percent of farriers in the U.S. to have a Ph.D.
  • One of 550 Certified Journeyman Farriers in the U.S.
  • He is one of 158 Fellows of the Worshipful Company of Farriers since 1356 A.D.
  • He is one of 35 living FWCFs — the first American citizen to achieve it
  • He is the only person who is a Ph.D., CJF and FWCF