Club foot occurs in horses when the coffin joint at the hoof is in a partially flexed position and cannot be extended correctly. When you look at the front of a horse’s hoof with a club foot, the hoof wall will be straighter and more vertical than normal. The condition can occur immediately after birth or can develop at any age. Horses with a club foot have a hoof angle that is greater than 60 degrees while normal horses have a hoof angle of around 50 degrees. There are different grades of club foot, and some horses have a hoof angle greater than 90 degrees.
The cause is shortening of the deep digital flexor muscle and tendon on the back side of the horse’s leg, which prevents the coffin joint from being extended. In severe cases, damage to the coffin bone in the hoof can occur and horses commonly develop bruising at the toe and as well as recurrent abscesses in the sole. Foals born with a club foot will generally resolve as they begin to exercise, although some will require bandaging or splinting of the leg. Treatment of older horses requires trimming the toe as short as possible to aid in breakover and gradually lowering the heel every two to four weeks to stretch the deep digital flexor muscle. In some cases with younger horses, you can expect the muscle to stretch and the heel can be trimmed to a normal position. However, in an older horse or one for which trimming cannot be performed enough to correct the hoof angle, surgery will be required. Surgery involves cutting the accessory ligament of the deep flexor tendon, which allows the tendon to stretch. If you have a horse with a club foot, call your vet for an exam as early treatment can sometimes avoid surgery.