Club Foot Or Not Club Foot
I have been reading a lot lately on what is deemed more scientific farrier theory. Like often happens in this realm, there are spurts of trying to make something that should be natural into something more exact, rigid and controlled/controllable. The famous quote by Gertrude Stein, “There are no straight lines in nature,” was given validity by Benoit Mandelbrot, a mathematician concerned with mathematically describing natural phenomena as they actually are as opposed to the traditional Euclidian geometry of circles, spheres, squares and straight lines.
For many people the important question when faced with a club foot in a horse is whether to lower the heels of the club foot, or to raise the heels of the other. The more important question should be, “Is this a natural or unnatural club foot?”
There are wedge pads and wedge shoes available to make these hooves symmetrical, but should they be? How is the horse moving? Does it appear off gait? Is it lame? Is it bothered by this? Other than optically and cosmetically why is this an issue?
Arabian horses in the U.S. are known for club-footedness. The rumor I heard was that many came from a clubfooted mare that had a great top-line and won at all the shows because of that. She looked great and moved great. Everyone wanted a foal from her and that started a line of clubfooted Arabians. True or not, I don’t know. This is a common problem with Saddlebreds, also as you will see.
I started looking at clubfooted horses differently years ago. What I did was remove the shoes, trim naturally as I do, and stand the horse on a flat level surface; concrete or rubber mats. Then I held a level from one knee or chestnut to the other. It appeared to me that if it was a natural clubfoot the chestnuts would be level. That meant that everything above that was even and the clubfoot compensated for something like a shorter cannon bone. In that case I left it a club foot as long as the horse was sound and gaited well.
If the chestnuts of the clubfoot leg were higher, I considered that an unnatural club foot and would try to lower the hooves gradually to level them out. It also let me know that there was something off above that hoof and I would recommend a vet or chiropractor. These unnatural clubfooted horses were generally off gait whereas the natural clubfooted ones seldom were.
I was called to work on a Saddlebred who had been shod for the last couple of years to compensate for a club foot. The club foot had a toe-weighted show shoe and flat pads whereas the other hoof had the same shoe, but two wedge pads to make both hooves the same angle. This previously nationally ranked show horse had been off gait and had not been shown for the past year. Upon removing the shoes and checking on a flat surface as discussed above, it was apparent that, barefoot, the chestnuts were level and this was a natural club foot. I did a natural trim and shoed both hooves the same. On the first test ride the owner said, “I have my Cadillac back.”