Flat-footedness is a common issue that many horse owners and farriers face on a regular basis. It is most commonly found in Thoroughbreds.
Flat feet develop as a result of genetics, conformation problems, poor physical condition, poor nutrition, lack of hoof care or early shoeing. Long toes and under-run heels go hand-in-hand with flat feet. The good news is, however, that most horses can recover to some extent from flat-footedness and its effects with corrective farriery, improved diet and physical rehabilitation.
A foal is born with his coffin bone high up in the hoof capsule, and the connection between the epidermal and dermal laminae is tight. This connection is vital as it is what holds the internal structures of the hoof exactly where they need to be. The position of these structures – high in the hoof capsule – creates a concave shape on the sole. The coffin bone itself is not flat, but has a slight curve to it, and the external structure simply follows this shape. The concavity therefore reflects a well-connected hoof and correct anatomy (in most cases).
The connection between the epidermal and dermal laminae remains tight unless certain (generally human-controlled) factors come in to play: poor hoof care, premature or unnecessary shoeing, restricted movement and rich diets can all contribute to the declining hoof health.
When a horse moves and the hoof contacts the ground, the hoof spreads and flexes to absorb the impact of the skeletal structure descending within the hoof capsule under the horse’s weight. The concave structure of the hoof is what allows the hoof to contract and expand during movement and assists with stability, balance and shock-absorption. A flat-footed horse does not enjoy these benefits, and it is from here that the problems being to arise.
What can you do?
There are lots of preventative measures that you can take and various treatment and rehabilitation options available for the flat-footed horse. If you are concerned that your horse has flat feet, consult with your farrier and vet about your options. Although costly it is generally advised that you take lateral x-rays of all four feet to for the assessment, to look at the internal structures of the hoof capsule.
Barefoot is often a suitable option for flat-footed horses but the rehabilitation period is long and your horse may need to go unworked for months at a time. While barefoot, he should be turned out as much as possible where he has freedom to move on natural terrain as much as is comfortable for him. Movement is critical to the soundness of any horse, whether he is a happy hack or a top performance athlete, and this is especially the case if your horse is barefoot.
If barefoot is not an option, corrective shoeing with regular monitoring is your next best bet. It’s advised that your vet and farrier work together on the diagnosis and agree on a solution going forward.
Finally a balanced diet that is high in forage and low in sugar and starch is a must.