Hoof balance and proper farriery are key to preventing sheared heels, but what do you do if you suspect that a horse already has them?
When horses’ feet land unevenly, the hooves become misshapen and out of balance — crooked legs, bad joints or upper leg pain can all cause sheared heels. Likewise, hooves that have been neglected or subjected to bad trimming or shoeing are prone to sheared heels.
“An unbalanced hoof puts uneven stress on the rear part of the foot, resulting in too much force on one side, and one heel bulb ending up higher than the other,” Kim Dyson told Farmer’s Weekly.
This tears the soft tissue and can cause hoof cracks. Additionally, some horses end up with a deep fissure between the heel bulbs, according to Dyson.
To recognize sheared heels, Dyson says to view the horse from behind while it stands on a flat surface. If the horse has sheared heels, one side of the heel will be higher than the other.
Standing next to the horse and looking at the coronary band of a sheared heel, you will notice that it lacks a gradual angle toward the ground. Upon lifting the hoof, it may be off-center or sunken.
“There might be a flare on one side of the hoof wall,” Dyson says.
Early diagnosis of sheered heels is the key to better treatment. Farriers can balance the feet and restore heel alignment. Mild cases may be treated with shoe removal, trimming and allowing the horse to roam where it has plenty of room.
Some cases may require more attention.
“This might involve trimming the longest heel, and fitting the full bar shoe to stabilize the heel and spread the horse’s weight evenly,” Dyson says. “The shoe might need to be reset several times before improvement is seen.”
After the heel is corrected, the horse still will be predisposed to sheared heels.
“If such a horse has to be shod, it will require some type of support over its frog, either a heart bar shoe or a shoe with a plate across the heel to support it,” she says. “The better the load is distributed over the frog, the better the overall health of the hoof.”