Managing Low Palmar Angles in Horses

An understanding of the physics of the foot helps create long-term management strategies

Appropriate palmar angles are integral to the health and well-being of horses. The palmar angle of the third phalanx (P3 or coffin bone) refers to the angulation between its solar surface and the ground. When the angle is too low, horses often have collapsed heels and elongated toes, leading to hoof capsule weakening and frequent loss of shoes. The horse’s conformation and genetic makeup are precursors to low/negative palmar angles. Learning to manage, rather than correct, this type of foot conformation is essential to the longevity of the horse’s career.

Specific breeds, ages and exercise levels can cause a horse to be more susceptible to a low palmar angle because of the composition of their digital cushion, says Diego Almeida, CJF (EE, FE, TE), AWCF, program director and lead instructor of the Montana State University Farrier School. The arrangement of the collagen fibers within the digital cushion and the ratio between adipose tissue and fibrocartilage determine whether the digital cushion can perform its intended function. Studies also demonstrate a link between the thickness of the collateral cartilages and the strength of the digital cushion. Generally, thicker collateral cartilages mean more robust digital cushions.

“If I float the toe, the position of the hoof capsule will change because it’s sinking into the ground …” 

“Breeds like Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses have digital cushions that are more on the adipose side with possibly a more unorganized arrangement of collagen fibers,” Almeida says. “And that could be one reason we see many Thoroughbreds…

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Maclaren Krueger

Maclaren Krueger is an assistant editor for American Farriers Journal and the International Hoof-Care Summit. Previously, they were an editorial intern with No-Till Farmer, Farm Equipment and other Lessiter Media publications. They have a background in photography and graduated with a degree in English, Creative Writing and Publishing from the University of Iowa. 

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