Ask Your Veterinarian Presented By Kentucky Performance Products: How Do Crushed Heels Happen? - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Ask Your Veterinarian Presented By Kentucky Performance Products: How Do Crushed Heels Happen?

Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock.

Question: How do crushed heels happen, and how might they impact an athletic horse (racehorse or sport horse)?

Dr. Scott Fleming: The modern Thoroughbred has been continuously refined for speed and this is reflected in the light, often thinner walled hooves they possess. A lighter hoof is more susceptible to forces acted on it at speed and can manifest itself in hoof deformation and eventual dysfunction of anatomical structures in the caudal or “back” part of the hoof. Crushed or significantly underrun heels are a hoof conformation fault encountered in all breeds, but very common in the Thoroughbred.

This condition typically develops over time and can be prevalent by early adulthood. There are varying degrees of crushed heels. Depending on the observer, you can describe the degree of heel dysfunction as “low heels” being milder and “crushed” being more severe. Crushed heels can be seen by the eye, but hidden within the hoof, there are often changes that take advanced imaging such as radiography, CT, or MRI to define. Often, crushed heels are accompanied by negative palmar (forelimb) or plantar (hindlimb) angles of the coffin bone, a broken back hoof-pastern axis, and degradation of the digital cushion which is the lifeblood of caudal hoof function.

A hoof is a functioning framework of bone, soft tissue and hoof wall/sole keratin all working together to support and provide traction for the horse. This highly specialized unit must endure tremendous load and stress whether at rest or speed. Proper development from an early age is critical to maintaining a healthy hoof into and throughout adulthood. Timely and attentive hoof care early in life along with activity providing impact/concussion while growing are very important factors for development. The wings of the coffin bone are very short in early life and grow caudally as the horse matures. Strong healthy wings are critical for maintaining health in the back of the hoof as they share load with the digital cushion. We often see underdeveloped or resorbing coffin bone wings with crushed/low heels.

Crushed heels can significantly impact performance through unsoundness or physical breakdown of the hoof with heel or quarter cracks. Often, these horses are heel sore and may have bruising or “corns” present. Low heels or negative palmar/plantar angles also increase stress that can lead to soft tissue injury further up the limb. A good physical exam of the hoof is an integral part of diagnosing a problem and formulating a treatment plan. While prevention is the best medicine, therapeutic shoeing/trimming protocols including bar shoes, sole support, and addressing mechanical needs of the hoof can all help with this problem. Unfortunately, the effects can often linger if severe.

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Scott Fleming, originally from Northeast Texas, grew up riding Western performance Quarter Horses and working with cattle. Upon graduating from high school, Fleming attended farrier school and maintained a quarter horse centric farrier business in Northeast and central Texas until moving to Lexington. He also served in the Marine Corps Infantry for four years.

Fleming graduated from veterinary school at Texas A&M University in 2013. He then completed an internship at Rood & Riddle in 2013-2014, continued at the hospital as a fellow, and is currently a shareholder at Rood & Riddle.

Outside of Rood & Riddle, Fleming enjoys spending time on the farm with his wife, Tina and their two children, Callie and Case. A special interest for Dr. Fleming is participating in Equitarian Initiative trips to Central America to help working equids in the region.

Do you have a question for a veterinarian that you'd like to see in Ask Your Vet? Email natalie at

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