How Riding Influences Foot Health


There is only so much we can do with a trim. Once we have achieved balance to the internal arch apparatus (internal structures of the foot), it is our responsibility to determine what needs to be done to aid the horse in maintaining or regaining foot health via the appropriate amount of pressure.

Noticing a Trend

I recently visited a client in New York to care for their 12 horses. I began to work on the first horse, and upon completing a spectrum of usability, made note of a lateral (outside) mechanical/metabolic flare in the right hind foot, and slightly under run lateral heel. Flare is a bending of the wall. In addition, I noted that both hind toes were a bit dubbed (being worn off), with the right hind having its breakover slightly more lateral than the left hind.

After discussing the dubbing with the trainer, it was determined that it was in fact less severe than it had been on my last visit. The trainer felt that the horses were working better, and as a result had more suspension to their gaits with less dubbing of their toes.

I proceeded to the second horse of the day, and found the same issue – a lateral mechanical/metabolic flare in the right hind foot, and slightly under the lateral heel. Once again, there was some dubbing, but again less than on my previous visit.  Again, the breakover on the right hind was slightly lateral when compared to the left hind. Two horses with similar changes are interesting, but not improbable. It did peak my curiosity.

The third horse, a Dutch Warmblood in training just like the previous two, had similar changes as well. I can accept one horse like this, even two, but not three. There was something going on here that warranted further investigation. Even though I had done a gait analysis on each horse prior to trimming them, I wanted to take a closer look.

A closer look
I had each horse worked in hand in the indoor school. I noted that each one platted with the right hind foot (tracked towards the opposite forefoot) when asked to work clockwise. The inside foot should follow a track that places it slightly closer to the horse’s center line, without passing over the center line. In horses that are tracking correctly, the flight arc of each hind foot will be the same. It should be noted that there was no sign of lameness, but the horses were showing definite signs of asymmetrical muscle development.

I continued to work through seven horses that day, completing spectrums for each. Each horse currently in training showed some sign of asymmetrical development.

Rider influence
I hypothesized that the changes in the right hind foot of each horse were the result of rider influence. I had a talk with the trainer and discovered that all the horses showing changes to their right hind feet were being ridden by the same person. I was also informed that the rider had an old injury that may have had an effect on her own balance.

I asked the rider to exercise each horse and took note of how they tracked up behind. Each horse was worked in a large figure eight. They all showed platting of the right hind when asked to go clockwise, but showed no tendency to plat when asked to go counterclockwise.

Helping your horse 
I then asked the rider to apply mild pressure to her left leg when asking the horse to circle to the right. I was basically asking her to bend the horse a bit less. As a result, the horse tracked up straighter with the right hind (inside hind). The change was so noticeable it could be measured. The change in foot placement was nearly four inches! Yet the rider felt the horse was actually executing the bend more smoothly.

What had happened, apparently, was that the rider had developed a habit of allowing the horse to bulge through his left rib cage while tracking clockwise. This in turn caused the right hind to follow a line that placed the foot far past the center line of the horse. With each stride, excess pressure was being applied to the lateral heel of the right hind foot.

A plan for change
The rider will now know to maintain balance when asking the horse to bend to the right. She will continue to develop techniques to improve the way she asks for the bend. She will be utilizing slow motion video to review her progress. She has also contacted her saddle fitter to evaluate saddle fit, and will be working with her physical therapist to help her develop better muscle symmetry in her own frame.

This experience made it very clear that a rider can have an enormous influence on foot development. Remember that heel conformation is directly related to cartilage development, and that cartilage development is directly related to pressure. Changes to cartilage resulting from incorrect pressure result in poor heel development.

There is only so much we can do with a trim. Once we have achieved balance to the internal arch apparatus (internal structures of the foot), it is our responsibility to determine what needs to be done to aid the horse in maintaining or regaining foot health via the appropriate amount of pressure. Watch your horses closely, and don’t overlook your influence on their foot development.


Keith “KC” La Pierre is co-founder of the Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry (appliedequinepodiatry.org). Along with his wife Robyn, Keith has dedicated his life to improving the state of the hoof care industry. He and Robyn specialize in teaching Applied Equine Podiatry, a science-based holistic app roach to hoof care. Keith has been a professional farrier and horseman for nearly three decades, and has lectured internationally on his innovative theories and methods. He was the first American farrier to lecture at the Royal Society in London, England. The Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry offers a diploma program in Applied Equine Podiatry, as well as three- and five-day courses, and an online program geared to the horse enthusiast.

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