There’s a club foot epidemic among horses — unless, of course, there isn’t.

Whether there is or isn’t may depend on who you ask, where you provide hoof care, or how you define a club foot.

I suspect the last — the definition of club foot — is the real key.

Our upcoming May/June issue includes coverage on dealing with club feet — particularly in foals. As part of that coverage, we conducted an informal email survey asking farriers what percentage of horses that they work on have a club foot.

The range was pretty broad — from “less than 1%” to a high of 65%. A number of those who answered were less specific, suggesting that virtually all horses having mismatched feet, or saying they don’t seem that many club feet, but they do see a lot of “upright” or “very upright” ones.

A few people also provided at least some sort of a definition. One said they considered a foot a club if it were 60 degrees or higher. Another thought a foot wasn’t a club until it hit 70 degrees.

I know that veterinarians and farriers disagree on a number of issues, but I have to come down on the veterinarian side regarding the need for clearly defined terms.

Can’t See The Forest …

I started my college career as a forestry major. One of the more tedious tasks forestry majors go through is learning how to indentify various tree species — including memorizing their Latin names.

Despite changing majors and going into an entirely different career, I still remember quite a few of those names — particularly pinus strobus and pinus monticola.

Those are Latin names for trees commonly referred to as white pine. It turns out the white pine (pinus strobus) in the Great Lakes area where I was studying forestry is an entirely different species that the white pine (pinus monticola) that is found in the forests of Washington and Oregon.

Any first-year students who questioned the need to learn all these names in a dead language, were quickly asked how they could be sure the white pine they were discussing on a phone call with a distant colleague was the same white pine the other was thinking about. A quick mention of the Latin name would make sure both were on the same page.

A Place To Start

I’m not suggesting farriers need to learn the Latin name for club feet (I have no idea what it would be), but it does make sense to agree on an accepted definition of club feet and to be sure that if you are discussing the condition with another hoof-care professional, you’re both talking about the same thing.

A glossary of therapeutic farriery terms was published in Equine Veterinary Education in 2007. It defines club foot as “an upright conformation of the foot associated with a flexural deformity of the interphalangeal joint. The dorsal hoof wall angle is steep, accompanied by a broken-forward foot-pastern axis. The distance between the heels is normal.” (The entire glossary can be viewed here.

That’s a good place to start. Ric Redden, DVM, one of the authors of the glossary, has gone further and developed a grading system that breaks down club feet into four categories, ranging (and I admit my description is very imprecise) from almost normal to very severe. (For an update on Dr. Redden’s grading system, click here.)

Using a grading system like this — and a number of respondees to our email clearly do — provides further definition for particular cases and important data for a precise diagnosis and subsequent plan of treatment.

That should always be the goal — even if you can’t put it in Latin. 

Are there other hoof-care terms you find confusing or think mean different things to different people? Share them with your fellow colleagues and your fellow visitors to