WHY are racehorse feet "like that"

I’m sure I’m showing my ignorance here… just genuinely curious why so many OTTBs come off the track with pancake feet. Obviously making a sweeping generalization, I just see so many ads fresh off the track (or still on the track) with long toes and underrun heels. There’s gotta be a reason I’m not seeing?

1 Like

It’s an old school thought process. Long toes = longer stride. Of course that isn’t true, and it causes more damage than good.

That said, thoroughbreds are bred for speed, not good feet. See: Big Brown.


Exactly what Endlessclimb said in her first paragraph – but I will respectfully disagree on the “not food feet” part in that, we have not Bred the Hoof out, but Fed it out and Trimmed it out.

As a part-time trimmer, for the first five years of my outside-client practice, all I did was rehab pancake flat, thin-walled OTTB hooves. Pulled the shoes (boots when needed), changed the diet (NO sugar, low starch, higher fat, balanced minerals–especially copper & zinc), left them out 24/7, got them moving more on varied terrain. All have rehabbed beautifully to be concave, thicker and stronger - no more chips, cracks or flares. Most of these are eventers.

Feed the hoof first, the body will follow.


Yeah but they’re never going to be as tough as other breed’s feet. That’s what I’m talking about. Yes, you can improve what you have - get some concavity, thickER, strongER… But you’re never going to get mustang-tough feet out of 99.9% of thoroughbreds. It’s not something that’s sought after, especially since their racing years are so short.


The genetic issue is that the culling and selection process (racing) is undertaken while wearing shoes, for the last 400 years. Some other breeds haven’t had this. And while there are crackpot ideas on racetracks, among trainers and farriers regarding long toes and underrun heels (as there are similar crackpots among all equine disciplines), there are also brilliant farriers and good trainers who do not subscribe to crackpot theories. Choose who you deal with when you purchase an OTTB. If you buy a horse off an idiot, don’t be too surprised if there are issues, no matter the discipline. The most damage to racehorse feet occurs because of the amount of pounding and concussion they get, regularly, with racing and training, even with shoes for protection, at high speed. Also, since there is often pavement in the barn area and aluminum shoes, they wear the traction on the shoes out far too quickly, requiring reshoeing at 4 weeks, not enough time to grow enough hoof, especially if there is bruising in the feet already. The slight amount of growth is removed, compounding the problem.
This should be a short term issue, when you first bring your new horse home. With good nutrition, some time and light, slow work or turn out, it resolves. The other issue of course is stabled living while at the track, not enough constant motion- can’t really be helped under the circumstances. Same with all stabled living in other equine disciplines.

And no, not ALL racehorse feet are like that, either before, during, or after their career. As always, it depends.

Some soft tissue in the feet is susceptible to bruising as a result. This is short term, when you first bring your horse home. With good nutrition, some time and light work or turn out, it resolves. The other issue of course is stabled living while at the track, not enough constant motion- can’t really be helped under the circumstances. Same with all stabled living in other equine disciplines.

And no, not ALL racehorse feet are like that, either before or after their career.


Well, my Race-bred TB (never tattooed, but ponied for 4yrs after failing his 2yo Speed Test) had great feet. Maybe because, as @NancyM mentions, his breeding was not Top of the Line, but from a local stud who had some success.
I evented him barefoot - BNH, but schooled to Training at home - showed Hunters & trailrode shoeless for 15 of the 20yrs I had him.

Agree with @NancyM 's very valid point about buying from idjits.
When I was buying thru CANTER from Collinsville, IL, other - non-CANTER - trainers were drawn to what they believed was easy money for their throwaways.
One showed me a gelding with founder rings on all 4. When I asked, I was told they came from “recently having shoes pulled” Uh-huh… :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Sorry for the “repeat” passages on the post above. My cat (who sleeps on my hands/arms while I am on the computer, pressed a quote button while I typed, and I thought I had cleared all that stuff out before I posted it. But apparently, I had failed with that plan. My cat (Prickle) often sends things on my computer, does some posting here and there, he’s a real help.


There are plenty of TB breeders that won’t use stallions with notoriously bad feet. See: Big Brown.

1 Like

And plenty that will. You’re breeding racehorses who have short careers. If they need $500 shoes but will win millions, it is considered as a risk that may (or may not, of course) be worth taking. The fact that there’s Big Brown progeny out there should speak for itself.

For whatever reason my computer is being wonky and won’t let me highlight/quote @NancyM’s text, but what she said!

Also, I want to drop Texarkana’s favorite pet cause: we have REALLY bad farrier education in this country on the whole. For decades, veterinary medicine basically ignored the importance of farriery. The farrier community taught their own without any oversight. The two professions operating in different spheres led to a real lack of understanding of how one affects the other. Sports medicine is now playing catch up, but it’s an uphill battle when an entire generation of vets and farriers were educated with misconceptions, myths, and fallacies that formed out of lack of understanding-- such as long toes and underrun heals are acceptable, even advantageous. Or that TBs feet are a genetic problem that can only be managed and can’t be improved upon.

Track vets and track farriers have to hold a license to work at the track. If you are a trainer stabling at the track, you can’t just bring in whomever you like: you are limited to who is licensed. While it’s not difficult to get a license, I observe a lot of licensed farriers and even vets from the generation referenced above, further limiting trainers’ access to more progressive mindsets about hoof care.

With that said, some of the best farriers and vets in the world work out of the racetrack. It’s definitely not a situation where everyone is part of the problem.


California Chrome is a big name with some of the worst looking farriery in recent memory. And he missed most of his 4yo season with soundness problems. Not foot trouble specifically, but so much starts at the hooves.

1 Like

I had an OTTB called “Prepared” who legitimately looked like a mustang. Legs like short tree trunks, huge head, feathers, beard, roman nose, the works. He was a real cutie, please don’t think my description was of disparagement!

Anyway, he had textbook barefoot feet. Short toe, wide frog, wall you couldn’t cut through in the winter (dry winters). He was small, 14.3, lived outside on hard ground 24/7, with minimal grass and no sweet feed. Textbook.

Even he needed front shoes to ride out of the arena. Our ground is just a crippler here.

My current OTTB has flat feet, but now I boot him for rides out.

Sometimes the environment they work on, and pressures we put on them, is more than all the horse has evolved to handle.

1 Like

This is not the primary reason but I am sure contributes to the cause - shoeing yearlings and 2 year old horses. I can’t see how having immature feet in shoes is a good thing. But they can’t race/train barefoot.

Like you say, I think this is a part, but not the whole problem.

The good news about TBs is they generally get shod much more frequently than your average riding horse. People, for the most part, aren’t nailing shoes on and waiting 8 weeks before a reset. TBs are getting shod every 4ish weeks, so developmental changes are addressed quickly.

TB people also tend to be very good about pulling shoes when horses aren’t in work. Most of the TBs hanging out on the farm, either for R&R or breeding, are barefoot.

But… when I laid up horses, it was not unheard of for horses feet to get neglected in the breaks. Like, shoe the yearling for the sale, send him for the farm to grow for a couple months before breaking, oops no one pulled the shoes in the interim. It wasn’t the norm, but I hated when it happened. And I can’t imagine that is healthy for the animal’s soundness in the long run, though I doubt there is any hard data to support my suspicion.

Not as many as you think. Big Brown has sired one grade 1 stakes winner (Dortmond) since he entered stud in 2009. Dortmond is also the only one of his get to earn over 1M. There is a reason Big Brown is standing in NY for $5,000. :slightly_smiling_face:

I respectfully disagree with this post. I know your intentions are good and you are advocating for the horses, but to me, this seems like yet another disconnect between racing and the rest of the horse world.

I mean, re-read what you typed. $500 shoes. Win MILLIONS of dollars.

For every horse capable of winning millions of dollars, you go through a lot of duds. Even the stables consistently at the top of the game have to kiss a lot of frogs, so to speak, to have so many good horses. It is a rare thing that a horse is that good.

If the horse has the talent to become one for the history books, not to mention do the uncommon task of actually earning you large sums of money to offset the fortune you likely already spent, you’re telling me you’d not race him because he needs expensive farriery work?

By all means, I don’t condone racing uncomfortable or unsound horses. But the name of the game is horse racing, not a contest for who can have the cheapest farrier bill. If a horse can safely run with corrective farrier work, there is no reason he shouldn’t do so.

As for the Big Brown as a stallion example:

While genetics certainly are a contributor to the overall hoof quality of a horse, genetics are given far more credit for influencing hoof quality than they deserve. Hooves are dynamic structures that respond to their load, their environment, the health of the animal they are attached to, and in domesticated horses, the human interference they receive.

Speaking of the devil himself, here is a video of Big Brown in NY. Like the vast majority of thoroughbred stallions and broodmares, he appears to be barefoot. As someone who has spent her life bouncing between racing and showing english disciplines, I always find it interesting that so many show and pleasure riders swear their TBs can’t go barefoot even in retirement because of their genetically “bad” feet, while TB breeding farms keep almost everything barefoot unless there is a medical reason a shoe is needed for support.


My OTTB mare is barefoot and has been that way for a year. She will need shoes when her work gets harder - her soles and her walls are too thin to hold up otherwise. She gets primo nutrition, yes to zinc and copper supplementation, and great farriery work, else she wouldnt have been able to stay barefoot as long as she has.

Feet are definitely genetic, and then what you get genetically can be impacted by the “nurture” part of the equation. It doesnt matter how many duds there were - Big Brown had garbage feet while racing. I’m not even that into racing and I remember how bizarre his shoeing set ups looked.

What I’m saying is that when you’re breeding for speed, compounded by a relatively short career no matter how good they are, the feet are not considered to be a deciding factor. Thoroughbreds are not known for tough feet - theres a reason for that beyond just bad farriery and nutrition.

FWIW my own OTTB has nice feet. He didn’t come to me like that, but after a few cycles of good farrier work, he now has a nice(er) heel height and wide frogs. I have him in front shoes at the moment due to thin soles but hope to pull them eventually.

This is the horse that prompted me to make this post. She is stunning!! but her feet had me scratching my head lol

Also I know basically nothing about the racehorse industry. It makes sense that there are good eggs along with the bad. TBs just have a reputation of having crummy feet, and I’m sure it’s a complicated issue with some blame in genetics and some in management. @Texarkana your description of veterinary vs farriery education makes a lot of sense to me!

This blog post has some interesting info on the topic: https://www.theequinedocumentalist.com/post/ex-racehorse-feet . Some excerpts:


Yeah…ugh. If she is sound on those feet, imagine what good farrier work would do for her!

1 Like