Club Foot in Horses 101: Causes, Symptoms, Recovery

Many horse owners believe a clubbed foot is a hoof blemish. Even though it’s a common issue, a club foot can actually be a serious issue. While there is no cure, proper nutrition and management can make a happy lifestyle for a horse. This article will explain in-depth the causes, treatment, and management of a club-footed horse.

What is Club Foot?

To understand what clubfoot is, its good to start with what is going on structurally. In the lower leg, the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) and muscle are connected to the heel. Normally, any movement of the tendon and muscle will allow for the heel to flex as well. If the tendons and muscle are shortened, the lower leg is unable to extend. This pulls the heel up, causes the heel to grow downward unchecked, and creates a mild to severe hoof angle.

There are two ways a veterinarian will grade the severity of a club foot. One way is to grade the severity of Type 1 (hoof angle is less than 90 degrees) or Type 2 (hoof angle is 90 degrees or more). The other way is a grading system where Grade 1 is the most common and least severe and Grade 4 is most severe. If a hoof is Grade 4, the hoof is sitting perpendicular to the ground and the heel is as long as the toe. At this severity, chances are slim that it is fixable.

What Causes Club Foot?

There are several causes of club foot. The primary one is genetics. If a horse has a clubbed foot, then the foals that mare or stud produces will have one as well. A diet rich in calories and sugar can cause problems as well. A foal’s bones growing too fast for the tendons can cause immense pain. The pain causes the foal to walk more on its toe making the DDFT shorten and pull the heel up.

In older horses, a leg injury or chronic pain can cause a similar scenario. It is also worth mentioning that improper trimming will cause significant damage. If a heel is allowed to grow too long, it can cause or worsen a case of club foot.

Treatment Options Available for Club Foot

The treatment of club foot is straightforward for both foals and older horses. From the time of diagnosis, the vet and farrier will have to work together to provide treatment and recovery. If a foal is born with a club foot, veterinary attention is needed immediately. Oxytetracycline, pain relief, and splinting or casting relax the tendons first to work on them. Trimming and rasping, combined with toe extensions, help stretch the tendons.

Young Foals

Foals between three months to three years that develop club foot will need a balanced diet low in calories and sugar. Most mild cases will only need pain relief, trimming of the heel, toe extensions, and exercise to stretch out the tendons. More severe cases need surgery to cut the tendon, allowing the heel to stretch down. Mild and moderate cases needing surgery and therapeutic farrier work have a good prognosis of recovery. With severe cases, vets and farriers tend to stay more guarded.

Older Horses

For older horses, it is recommended a series of X-rays done to see the severity of tendon damage. From there, the vet can build a trimming/shoeing schedule. The standard trimming/shoeing schedule for club foot is every four weeks so the heel doesn’t become overgrown. Surgery can be done for older horses too, though the prognosis for recovery isn’t always as good. Exercise will keep the tendons stretching and limber, but, the owner should keep an eye on alert their vet for any pain or lameness that occurs.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a set amount of treatment and recovery time. It all depends upon the horse and the severity of the clubbed foot. For some horses, treatment and full recovery can occur in months. Others still may take years or need therapeutic farrier work for their entire lives. Either way, a club footed horse requires high maintenance.

Prevention of Club Foot in Horses

The best way to prevent foals from developing club foot is with a balanced diet that allows slow and steady growth. A lot of grain formulas are high in calories and sugary cereal grains, but there are brands that have specific growth formulas with low calories/sugar and balanced nutrients. Finally, getting a farrier to start trimming early on will help find potential problems and take care of them immediately.

A good, consistent farrier schedule will keep all older horses balanced and waylay any future hoof problems. The same goes for older horses that already have a mild case of club foot. Decent farrier work goes a long way to keep horses balanced and happy. It doesn’t completely guarantee that problems such as won’t arise, but if it does, it can be taken care of immediately.


Club foot isn’t a blemish. It is a serious problem of the lower leg tendons not able to stretch and pull the heel upward. There are degrees of severity from the hoof being only little higher in the heel to the hoof being perpendicular to the ground. The problem is usually fixed through proper and consistent farrier work, a balanced, low starch/sugar diet, and exercise. Foals need a balanced growth formula that allows a slow, steady growth rate and trimming started at least by three months of age. In older horses, consistent trimming and shoeing will keep the horse balanced and alert you to any problems that may arise in the future. It won’t keep all problems from happening, but a consistent farrier schedule is a good alarm system in case they do.

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