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Long Toes in the Hind Feet and Pain in the Gluteal Region: An Observational Study of 77 Horses

By Richard A.Mansmann, Sarah James, Anthony T.Blikslager, Kurtvom Orde

Published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (Purchase access to read the complete article)


This study deals with the relationship between long toes in the hind feet and pain in the gluteal region in horses, and the remedial value of trimming/shoeing that moves the breakover point back at the toe.

77 client-owned horses were studied, 67 shod riding horses retrospectively and 10 barefoot broodmares prospectively. The 10 mares were evaluated twice, and 24 of the 67 riding horses were re-evaluated at the next shoeing, for a total of 111 observations. Each horse underwent gluteal palpation and lateral radiographs of both hind feet. Toe length was quantified as breakover distance (BD), the horizontal distance between the tip of the third phalanx and the dorsalmost point at which the wall/shoe was in contact with the ground. The BD was then shortened with trimming +/− shoeing to a length of ≤15mm (shod horses) or ≤20 mm (barefoot horses). The 24 riding horses were re-evaluated 4-6 weeks later and the 10 broodmares 1 week after trimming.

The results showed that of the 67 riding horses, 75% were positive for gluteal pain at initial evaluation. The mean BD for the positive and negative horses was 24.2 ± 1.3 mm and 18.8 ± 2.0 mm, respectively (p = 0.04). At the next shoeing, the mean BD was 10.9 ± 2.3 mm and gluteal pain was improved in all 24 horses; 20 horses (83%) were negative and 4 horses (17%) were now only mildly positive. The 10 broodmares were all positive for gluteal pain initially. The mean BD before and after trimming was 23.7 ± 1.2 mm and 10.9 ± 1.1 mm, respectively. One week later, gluteal pain was improved in all 10 mares; 8 mares (80%) were negative, and the other 2 mares (20%) were only mildly positive.

The conclusion is that excessive toe length in the hind feet may be accompanied by pain in the gluteal region and, in our experience, may be associated with gait or performance problems. Shortening the toe can alleviate this pain within days or weeks. Aiming for a BD of between 0 and 20 mm probably is appropriate for the average-size horse.


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