QUESTION: My 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding strikes the underside of a front hoof with the toe of a hind. I hear the click at a working walk only. No other gaits seem to be affected. As far I can tell, this seems to happen only on the right side. The front of the hind hoof does not appear to have sustained any damage. When I first heard the click, I put bell boots on the front hooves and ankle boots on the hinds, but that arrangement had no effect. Do you have any other suggestions?
You are describing forging. This occurs when, at either a walk or trot, the toe of the hind foot comes forward and strikes the heel or bottom of the front foot just as it starts to leave the ground. If the horse is wearing shoes, the rider will hear a distinct metallic click with each step. Usually, it means that the front foot is too slow in leaving the ground to avoid the advancing hind foot.
Overreaching is a more severe form of forging. In this case, the toe of the hind foot lands on the heel bulb of the front foot before it leaves the ground, either pulling off the shoe or lacerating the heel.
Many factors can cause a horse to forge, including aging, fatigue, improper riding, lack of fitness, faulty conformation or overgrown hooves. One possibility that is often overlooked is lameness. A horse with forelimb discomfort that causes a short, “stilted” gait or lack of extension may begin forging. If your horse forges and you’ve noticed any abnormality in his gait, I would recommend having your veterinarian evaluate him for lameness.
If lameness and other physical factors have been ruled out, the solution to forging will likely be found in farriery work. Your farrier will first observe the horse moving at both a walk and a trot to determine the extent of the gait abnormality. Then he will consider ways to influence the timing of the gaits. The goal is to speed up the breakover of the forefeet, to slow down the advancement of the hind feet, or both.
To speed up breakover in the front limbs, the farrier will first trim the toes so they’re not too long. Then the toes of the shoes may be modified to enhance breakover—the techniques may include squaring, rolling or rockering. Some farriers and veterinarians recommend putting lighter shoes, such as aluminum, on the front feet to speed hoof movement.
Some will use a shoe that is too small in hopes that it will be harder to pull off, but in fact, this usually compounds the problem. It is imperative that the appropriate size shoe be used to provide the proper ground surface and support.
A better approach is to trim the hind feet to provide as much ground surface as possible, which can help slow them down. A hind shoe with the heels fitted well beyond the buttress of the foot will tend to keep the foot on the ground longer, delaying breakover of the hind limb.
Tracy Turner, DVM, DACVS,
Turner Equine Sports Medicine
Big Lake, Minnesota
This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #379)
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Based in Big Lake, Minnesota, Tracy Turner, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, owns Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery, which specializes in sports medicine, lameness and surgery. He earned his veterinary degree from Colorado State University and has previously served on the faculty of the University of Illinois, the University of Florida and the University of Minnesota. Turner has been a consultant to the Fédération Equestre Internationale and United States Equestrian Federation, and he has worked at three Pan American Games, one World Equestrian Games and two Olympic Games.