ArticlePDF Available

How to Develop a Preventive Foot Care Program—A Model

Authors:
How to Develop a Preventive Foot Care
Program—A Model
Richard A. Mansmann, VMD, PhD;
Christine King, BVSc, MACVSc, M Vet Clin Stud;
and Elizabeth Stewart
Developing a preventive foot care program provides a valuable service for clients and their horses. By
raising awareness of existing problems, or the potential for certain problems to develop in a particular
horse, steps can be taken to limit the impact of those problems and prolong the horse’s useful
life. Author’s addresses: Central Carolina Equine Practice, 8809 Farrington Mill Road, Chapel
Hill, NC, 27514 (Mansmann and Stewart); and Paper Horse, PO Box 1771, Cary, NC, 27512
(King). © 2000 AAEP.
Introduction
The two conventional preventive medicine programs
in equine practice are deworming and vaccination.
These programs are designed to prevent, or at least
decrease the incidence and severity of, specific med-
ical problems. As the fields of equine parasitology
and immunology have advanced, so these preventive
programs have been refined. Now, deworming and
vaccination programs are tailored for particular
types of horses, management situations, and geo-
graphic regions. These programs are now so widely
accepted that, even if a horse owner or manager has
limited knowledge of the specific parasites or dis-
eases involved, most are convinced of the impor-
tance and value of these preventive medicine
programs.
But preventive health care need not be restricted
to deworming and vaccination. There are numer-
ous performance-limiting problems in horses that
can be prevented, or their incidence and severity
reduced, simply by alerting the owner or manager to
the potential for a particular horse to develop that
problem and recommending appropriate manage-
ment changes. This is the foundation of the pre-
ventive foot care program we describe in this paper.
Foot problems are among the most common
causes of lameness in horses. Thus, the primary
objective of this preventive foot care program is to
avoid potentially serious foot problems and limit
progression of existing problems, thereby maximiz-
ing performance and prolonging the useful life of the
horse. This goal is achieved by making the owner
aware of any potential or existing foot problems,
providing the farrier with a lateral radiograph from
which to make shoeing decisions, and encouraging
positive interaction among the owner–farrier–vet-
erinarian team (OFVT). This paper describes the
preventive foot care program we have developed for
156 2000 Vol. 46 AAEP PROCEEDINGS
HOW-TO SESSION
NOTES
Reprinted in the IVIS website with the permission of AAEP
Close window to return to IVIS
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the AAEP 2000
our practice, and presents the findings from the first
50 horses evaluated.
Materials and Methods
Examination Procedure
Fifty horses were evaluated between August 1998
and January 1999. To be eligible, the horse had to
be sound for work, as determined by the owner.
Horses that were lame were excluded from the study
group, and their owners were encouraged to have a
standard lameness examination performed.
The preventive foot care examination comprises
five parts:
1. History. The owner or manager is asked to
provide general information about the horse
and its work schedule, any history of foot
problems or lameness, and the shoeing sched-
ule (Fig. 1).
2. General inspection. The horse’s conforma-
tion is briefly evaluated and its body score is
estimated.
1
The potential for suspensory lig-
ament problems (e.g., long pasterns and exag-
Fig. 1. Sample evaluation form.
AAEP PROCEEDINGS Vol. 46 2000 157
HOW-TO SESSION
Reprinted in the IVIS website with the permission of AAEP
Close window to return to IVIS
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the AAEP 2000
gerated fetlock hyperextension when walking,
pain on palpation of the suspensory ligament)
is also assessed.
3. Assessment of the feet. Both forefeet are ex-
amined with the shoes on (if applicable).
Foot conformation is evaluated, and the feet
are inspected for any obvious external prob-
lems such as cracks, other hoof wall defects,
and thrush. Two simple measurements are
then made: (a) hoof wall angle (angle of the
dorsal hoof wall relative to the bearing surface
of the foot); and (b) hoof width, measured
across the widest part of the foot.
4. Lateral radiographs. A lateral radiograph is
taken of each forefoot, with the horizontal
beam aimed at the bearing surface of the hoof
wall and centered at the junction between the
middle and palmar thirds of the shoe. Every
effort is made to take a “true lateral” radio-
graph, in which both branches of the shoe are
superimposed.
The lateral radiograph is primarily used to
evaluate the position of the shoe in relation to
the center of the coffin joint (i.e., heel sup-
port). Other evaluations include sole thick-
ness, the position of the third phalanx (PIII) in
relation to the hoof capsule, and the presence
of any bony or soft tissue abnormalities visible
on this view.
To evaluate heel support, a vertical line is
extended down from the center of the coffin
joint to intersect with the shoe (Fig 2). The
center of the coffin joint is determined to be
the point midway along the curvature of the
distal interphalangeal joint, between the
proximal extent of PIII’s extensor process and
the proximal extent of the dorsal articular
surface of the navicular bone. A calculation
is then made of what proportion of the shoe is
in front of this line (toward the toe) and what
proportion is behind this line (toward the
heel). Heel support is considered adequate
when 40% of the shoe is behind this line.
5. Report. Once the radiographs have been
evaluated, a written report is sent to the
owner and the farrier (and, when applicable,
the primary or referring veterinarian). In-
cluded in the report are a summary of the
general inspection and hoof measurements;
details of any radiographic abnormalities
found; a tracing of the lateral radiograph with
the assessment of heel support; and any spe-
cific recommendations for shoeing, turnout,
diet, and exercise. The owner is encouraged
to have the evaluation repeated every 12
months.
Evaluation of the Program
In an effort to determine the practical value of such
a program, a subjective score was given for each
preventive foot care evaluation:
0feet appeared normal and no new informa-
tion was gleaned
1foot/feet had some abnormality that was al-
ready being addressed by the OFVT
2one minor problem either unknown or not
being addressed by the OFVT
3combination of minor problems either un-
known or not addressed by the OFVT
4moderate problem unknown to the OFVT
that may be asymptomatic but should be
monitored
5serious problem of immediate concern, un-
known to the OFVT
Specific abnormalities found during the evaluation
that we considered to be, or have the potential to
become, a problem were also compiled.
Results
In evaluating the program, the following results
were obtained for each subjective score:
0 —In 5 of the 50 horses (10%), the feet and radio-
graphs were considered normal, and no mem-
ber of the OFVT learned anything new about
the horse.
1—In 12 horses (24%), the problem was known to
the members of the OFVT, and no new prob-
lems were identified. The evaluation simply
confirmed the presence and extent of the prob-
lem, which in most horses was mismatched
feet.
2—In 20 horses (40%), a minor problem that was
either unknown or not being addressed by the
OFVT was identified. The most common
problems in this category were inadequate
Fig. 2. Evaluating heel support on a tracing of a lateral ra-
diograph. The “x” indicates the center of the coffin joint (a point
along the curvature of the joint midway between the most prox-
imal aspects of the extensor process and the dorsal articular
surface of the navicular bone). A vertical line is drawn down
from this point to intersect with the shoe. At least 40% of the
shoe’s length should be behind this line.
158 2000 Vol. 46 AAEP PROCEEDINGS
HOW-TO SESSION
Reprinted in the IVIS website with the permission of AAEP
Close window to return to IVIS
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the AAEP 2000
heel support in one or both feet, excessive body
weight (body score 7 on a scale from 1–9),
and a level or inversely angled coffin bone (loss
of the normal tilt to the solar margin of PIII
such that it is either level or lower at the wings
than at the toe).
3—In 8 horses (16%) a combination of minor prob-
lems unknown or not being addressed by the
OFVT were found. The types of problems
identified were the same as those listed for
horses with a score of 2; one horse in this group
had mild coffin bone rotation.
4 —In 4 horses (8%) a problem of moderate impor-
tance was found. Problems in this group in-
cluded ringbone (currently asymptomatic),
coffin bone rotation, and suspensory ligament
pain.
5—One horse had an important problem of imme-
diate concern. This horse was tripping and
falling as a result of advanced carpal arthritis,
of which the owner and farrier were unaware.
The most common finding that we considered to be a
potential problem was mismatched feet (Table
1). In most horses, the mismatching was mild to
moderate. The next most common finding was ex-
cessive body weight. Horses with cresty necks
were included it this group, regardless of their body
score. Another relatively common finding was in-
adequate heel support, defined radiographically
as 40% of the shoe being positioned behind the
center of the coffin joint. Seven horses had what we
believe is a propensity for suspensory problems in
the hindlimbs, based on their conformation and ex-
aggerated fetlock hyperextension while walking.
In three of these horses, pain was elicited on palpa-
tion of the suspensory ligaments. Other less com-
mon findings included thin soles, ringbone, and
coffin bone rotation; these abnormalities were iden-
tified on the lateral radiographs.
Discussion
In this small sample of 50 horses, 66% had potential
problems that were not known or were not being
addressed by the owner, farrier, or primary care
veterinarian. In only 10% of horses were the feet
and lateral radiographs considered normal. In our
experience, the problems identified through this pro-
gram have the potential to negatively impact perfor-
mance and even cause lameness if not managed
appropriately. Thus, we believe that a preventive
foot care program such as this is a valuable service
for clients and their horses.
Our preventive foot care program is still evolving,
but it has been well received by owners and farriers
in our area. The most common problems or miscon-
ceptions that we have encountered so far are that
the program is 1) a critique of the farrier’s work, 2)
a comprehensive physical and radiographic evalua-
tion of the feet, or 3) a substitute for a lameness
examination. But when the goals of the program
are made clear to the owner and the farrier, in most
cases all parties have been pleased with the results
and convinced of its value. We feel that this pro-
gram offers veterinarians a unique opportunity to
positively interact with the farriers in their practice
area, and work together to manage existing foot
problems and prevent many others.
This preventive foot care program is presented
simply as a model. We anticipate that equine prac-
titioners who adopt this program will modify the
evaluation to fit the types of horses and most prev-
alent foot problems seen in their practices. For
example, the examination may need to be modified
for gaited horses shod with elevated pads, and for
growing horses; and in young horses, a practitioner
may recommend re-evaluation every 6 months in-
stead of every 12 months. Some veterinarians may
choose to include a dorsopalmar projection or a ‘sky-
line’ navicular view in the radiographic examina-
tion, although the program is designed to be a
screening tool that is as economical and as simple to
conduct as possible. Various methods of evaluating
the foot are described elsewhere.
2,3,4
As our sample size is small and limited to func-
tionally sound horses, our data do not accurately
reflect the incidence of various foot problems in
horses. We did not find any major foot problems in
this population of horses, which is probably to be
expected. However, the main impetus for the prin-
cipal author (RAM) to develop this program was the
number of cases in which a program of this type
could have prevented a serious problem, or at least
alerted the owner, farrier, or veterinarian to its
presence early enough for simple management
changes to have limited its impact. A fairly com-
mon example is a horse with white line disease in
which a lateral radiograph reveals the presence of
coffin bone rotation. Whether the rotation was pri-
mary or secondary is open to speculation. The fact
remains that, had a lateral radiograph not been
Table 1. Specific Findings of Preventive Foot Care
Evaluations on 50 Horses
Finding
Number
of Horses
Percentage
of Total
Mismatched feet 27 54%
Overweight*/cresty neck 19 38%
Inadequate heel support† 18 36%
Propensity for hindlimb
suspensory problems 7 14%
Thin soles (radiographic
assessment) 4 8%
Ringbone 3 6%
Coffin bone rotation 2 4%
Note: the total number of horses exceeds 50 because some
horses had more than one abnormality.
* body score 7.
40% of the shoe behind the center of the coffin joint.
AAEP PROCEEDINGS Vol. 46 2000 159
HOW-TO SESSION
Reprinted in the IVIS website with the permission of AAEP
Close window to return to IVIS
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the AAEP 2000
taken, the farrier and veterinarian would have been
unaware of the extent of the problem.
Another example that illustrates the value of this
program is the older horse with pituitary pars inter-
media dysfunction (equine Cushing’s disease), in
which chronic laminitis and recurrent foot abscesses
are common and frustrating problems. There are
many owners and farriers who are unaware of this
medical condition and equally unaware that it can
be managed, and the foot problems substantially
improved, with medication.
We now provide brief discussions of the poten-
tial problems we did identify in the first 50 horses
evaluated.
Mismatched Feet
Mismatching of the feet was the most common find-
ing. We quantitatively defined mismatching as a
difference in hoof angle and/or width between the
left and right feet of 2 degrees and/or 2 milli-
meters, respectively. Many of the owners and all of
the farriers were aware of the mismatching in these
horses. However, the preventive foot care evalua-
tion allowed such issues as the importance of an
appropriate shoeing interval to be addressed by a
third party, thus reinforcing the farrier’s recommen-
dations to the owner.
A small amount of inequity between the left and
right feet is probably normal. However, in our ex-
perience obvious mismatching is suggestive of a pre-
vious, current, or developing problem that could
affect performance or lead to lameness if not ad-
dressed. The horses we evaluated were all func-
tionally sound in the opinion of the owner, but few
were performing at an advanced level in a strenuous
sport or activity. We recommend monitoring mis-
matched feet for widening of the difference between
the two feet in successive shoeings. If there is no
significant change between shoeings (i.e., the situa-
tion is static) and the horse is performing satisfac-
torily, then monitoring the situation may be all that
is needed. But if there is a widening of the differ-
ence between the two feet in successive shoeings, it
could indicate a progressive problem which needs
further evaluation.
Overweight Horses
Almost 40% of the horses evaluated were considered
to be overweight (body score of 7). This fact
should have been apparent to the owner, farrier, and
veterinarian, but no one was addressing this prob-
lem. Most equine practitioners would agree that
overweight horses and those with cresty necks are at
increased risk for laminitis, and that excessive body
weight can complicate various other orthopedic
problems, particularly joint disease. Awareness of
the potential risk factors is essential in the preven-
tion of laminitis, so this preventive foot care pro-
gram offers farriers and veterinarians an opportunity
to educate their clients and work at eliminating one of
the risk factors for this devastating disease.
Inadequate Heel Support
Over one-third of the horses had inadequate heel
support in one or both feet. In our collective expe-
rience, which spans two continents and several re-
gions within the United States, we believe that this
problem is quite prevalent in various types of
horse. Inadequate heel support may be responsible
for many cases of palmar foot pain (heel pain),
whether originating from the navicular area or else-
where in the palmar aspect of the foot. It may also
contribute to quarter cracks.
We chose to evaluate heel support radiographi-
cally, based on the method outlined by Chris
Colles.
4
However, we modified Colles’ approach
slightly. Colles describes drawing a circle over the
distal interphalangeal joint and dropping a vertical
line from the center of the circle to the bearing
surface of the foot. Using this method, the line
should bisect the bearing surface if the foot is cor-
rectly balanced.
4
But rather than drawing a circle
over the coffin joint to determine its center, we sim-
ply select a point along the curvature of the coffin
joint that is equidistant between the most proximal
aspects of the extensor process and the dorsal artic-
ular surface of the navicular bone. We then drop a
vertical line from that point to the ground surface
(Fig. 2). Using this method, we consider heel sup-
port to be adequate in most horses when no more
than 60% of the shoe is in front of this line and no
less than 40% of the shoe is behind this line (i.e.,
60:40). A common concern among owners and
some farriers is that the horse is more likely to
loosen or pull off a shoe if the shoe extends back too
far. But we have found that horses shod to provide
adequate heel support based on our criterion of
60:40 are no more likely to lose shoes, provided
attention is paid to breakover and to the environ-
ment in which the horse is kept.
Throughout the program, most farriers have ap-
preciated having a lateral radiograph (or a tracing)
from which to work. It graphically depicts the
problem in a way that most owners can readily un-
derstand, and it helps the farrier determine the
most appropriate shoeing method and shoeing inter-
val. It also encourages dialogue between the far-
rier and the veterinarian.
Propensity for Suspensory Problems
Horses with long pasterns tend to have exaggerated
hyperextension of the fetlocks during motion. In
some horses, the pasterns are merely “functionally”
long, meaning that while the pasterns may be of
average length, there is still exaggerated fetlock hy-
perextension. Typically, horses with long or func-
tionally long pasterns are considered “good movers,”
having a more elastic gait than horses with shorter
or more upright pasterns. However, this conforma-
tion may place undue stress on the suspensory lig-
aments, as the loading and length of the suspensory
ligament increase with extension of the fetlock
joint.
5
160 2000 Vol. 46 AAEP PROCEEDINGS
HOW-TO SESSION
Reprinted in the IVIS website with the permission of AAEP
Close window to return to IVIS
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the AAEP 2000
Horses with long or functionally long pasterns and
exaggerated fetlock hyperextension may, therefore,
be at increased risk for degenerative suspensory
ligament disease (chronic stretching and fiber
damage).
6
In the first 50 horses we evaluated, 14%
had what we considered to be a propensity for sus-
pensory ligament problems, based on their confor-
mation. All cases involved the hindlimbs, and all
tended to have straighter hocks in the stance phase
of the stride than horses considered not to be at
increased risk for suspensory problems. Three of
the seven horses had some pain on palpation of the
affected suspensory ligament(s), either in the body
or the branches.
As with excessive body weight, making the owner
aware that such a horse may be at increased risk is
an important step in preventing or limiting this
serious condition. In horses with this propensity,
we discuss modifications to the exercise program
with the owner and discuss increasing the heel sup-
port with the farrier.
Radiographic Findings
Two horses in the group had mild coffin bone rota-
tion. Both horses were asymptomatic at the time of
the evaluation, and in each case the farrier was
unaware of the problem. Four horses in the group
had thin soles. Currently, our radiographic assess-
ment of sole thickness is subjective; we do not rou-
tinely measure sole depth. But in general, we
consider a horse to have thin soles if the distance
between the tip of PIII and the surface of the sole is
less than 0.75 cm. In each of the four horses with
thin soles, the farrier was aware of the fact, but in
most cases the farrier found it useful to have the
extent documented on radiographs.
A small proportion of horses had level or inversely
angled coffin bones, in which the normal 4 –5 de-
grees tilt of the coffin bone in relation to the ground
surface of the hoof was lost. None of these horses
was lame, but we believe that this radiographic find-
ing is not normal and signals a potential problem in
the palmar half of the foot. Colles remarked that
this abnormality may be found in horses with very
badly balanced feet.
4
In some horses with level or
inversely angled coffin bones, we have observed
some improvement in angulation once adequate heel
support is provided.
Degenerative joint disease involving the proximal
interphalangeal joint was identified in three horses.
In each case the condition was clinically silent and
unknown to the members of the OFVT. Although
the significance of this finding is open to debate, we
feel that emphasizing the importance of consistency
in the shoeing interval and footing (both exercise
and turnout surfaces) is beneficial in these horses.
In conclusion, we believe that developing a pre-
ventive foot care program, tailored to the types of
horses and foot problems commonly encountered in
the practice, provides a valuable service for clients
and their horses. By raising awareness of existing
problems, or the potential for certain problems to
develop in a particular horse, steps can be taken to
limit the impact of those problems and thus prolong
the horse’s useful life. This program also provides
a novel way of enhancing the owner–farrier–veteri-
narian relationship, to the ultimate benefit of the
horse.
References
1. Galligan DT. Principles of nutrition. In: Collahan PT,
Mayhew IG, Merritt AM, Moore JN, eds. Equine Medicine and
Surgery. 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999;178.
2. Snow V, Birdsall D. Specific parameters used to evaluate
hoof balance and support, in Proceedings. 36th Annu Conv
Am Assoc Equine Practnr 1990;299 –311.
3. Turner T. The use of hoof measurements for the objective
assessment of hoof balance, in Proceedings. 38th Annu Conv
Am Assoc Equine Practnr 1992;389 –394.
4. Colles CM. Interpreting radiographs 1: the foot. Equine
Vet J 1983;15:297–303.
5. Clayton HM. Effects of hoof angle on locomotion and limb
loading. In: White NA and Moore JN, eds. Current Tech-
niques in Equine Surgery and Lameness. 2nd ed. Philadel-
phia: W.B. Saunders, 1998;504 –509.
6. Young JH. Degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis, in
Proceedings. 4th Internl Farriery Lameness Sem 1994;34 –35.
AAEP PROCEEDINGS Vol. 46 2000 161
HOW-TO SESSION
Reprinted in the IVIS website with the permission of AAEP
Close window to return to IVIS
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the AAEP 2000
Chapter
This chapter presents physical examination descriptions relating to three categories of horses: those with potential laminitis; those with mild lameness; and those horses with typical painful manifestations of laminitis. Equine healthcare professionals along with the horses' owners need to be looking for, recording, and monitoring changes over time: horse's overall body condition and unusual stances, specific hoof changes, and level of pain. Laminitis ought to be on a primary rule-out list for any lame horse. Other physical examination considerations include: systemic effect on the vital signs and foot conformation. The well-documented sepsis cases that are at higher risk of secondary serious laminitis are gastrointestinal medical and surgical cases, pleuropneumonia, and retained placenta cases. The early physical signs of subclinical laminitis are primarily hoof changes of deteriorating quality, sole bruising, and increasing numbers of lesions. Potentially, all horses, sound or lame, need to be considered as having subtle laminitis.
Article
Veterinarian/farrier/owner communication can be difficult in a given lameness case. A small group of veterinarians and farriers discussed the factors complicating this communication. Specific definition of roles; professional respect; differences in required education; distance and driving to horse, fees, and licensure requirements were cited as the primary complicating factors. In conclusion, the group suggested the ideal communication for a specific lameness case was for the veterinarian, farrier, and owner to be present when shoeing was being planned. A telephone call would be second in preference and a written case summary was the third choice. There are suggestions on how to formulate the written summary.
Principles of nutrition
  • Dt Galligan
  • Pt Collahan
  • Ig Mayhew
  • Am Merritt
  • Jn Moore
Galligan DT. Principles of nutrition. In: Collahan PT, Mayhew IG, Merritt AM, Moore JN, eds. Equine Medicine and Surgery. 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999;178.
Effects of hoof angle on locomotion and limb loading
  • H M Clayton
Clayton HM. Effects of hoof angle on locomotion and limb loading. In: White NA and Moore JN, eds. Current Techniques in Equine Surgery and Lameness. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1998;504 -509.
Degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis
  • J H Young
Young JH. Degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis, in Proceedings. 4th Internl Farriery Lameness Sem 1994;34 -35.