Why would horse step toe-then-heel?

Not my horse!

What makes a horse step toe-then-heel on front legs?

Horse is a QH, front legs a bit underneath his body. Recent radiographs show nothing unusual, 2 farriers can’t find obvious issues with feet, current shoes are wider to support walls and heels after more corrective shoes to build heel.

I’m not looking for answers as simplistic as “owner should find another vet of farrier”. I would like to know WHY a horse would travel like this.

Thank you!

Caudal heel pain. IE: navicular pain (common in QH), ddft pain, navicular bursa edema, etc


Adding, navicular bursitis and ddft issues can not be evaluated with xray.



Ultrasound can evaluate navicular bursa, not necessarily all of the ddft. Gold standard for imaging inside the hoof capsule is MRI.


Bad thrush, insufficient digital cushions, the beginnings of laminitis, can also cause toe first landings. Pretty much any time there is discomfort in the back half of the foot, whether it’s from a clinical pathology or just bad maintenance.


Thank you!

All of the above, or it could be as simple as the heels are too tall.


Heels aren’t too tall on this horse, trust me. All of his shoeing is to rebuild the heel for the past year, Past many years.

Long toes. Breakover. Style and size of shoe. Maybe you should look at your farrier. If you are trying to “rebuild” the heel you have to pay as much attention to the rest of the hoof.


Thank you. 2 farriers have addressed this horses’ heel. WHY does the horse move this way? It’s not as simple as long toes or breakover. I’m hoping for a more nuanced argument.

My horse started moving this way when his hock arthritis began causing him to weight more in the front. He had previous injuries to his coffin bone and joint (race track injuries) that were exacerbated by the over-weighted front end. He started landing toe first, causing his ddft to damage his navicular bone, and causing more toe-first landing, causing more damage to his navicular bone, etc. Poor shoeing caused further detriment and now, a year later, he is landing flat maybe 50% of the time (and toe first the other 50%). He might be rideable in the future. He’s only 10.

I would get to the root of your horse’s issue as quickly as possible, before irreversible damage is done.

If he stands with the legs back underneath him that is a heel high posture. But if he is over at the knee also, that could contribute to this way of going.

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This is (likely) your answer, which is what the others have been saying.

“Rebuild” heel tells me they have been chronically underrun and crushed, which leads to all kinds of degeneration in the back of the foot and caudal heel pain.

We can’t see what the feet look like or what this rebuilding is entailing. But it shouldn’t take the “past many years” of working on this to get him comfortable landing at least flat, unless there is enough degeneration that trim and shoes alone can’t do the job. So if looking inside the foot hasn’t happened yet, that’s what needs to happen sooner rather than later.

What does “front legs a bit underneath his body” mean? Doe he stand leaning over his legs? Sore heels. Or is his conformation such that his front legs, when vertical, are pretty much under his withers and not out in front of them?


To me this reads sore heels as well.


A third vote for caudal hoof pain/sore heels. Toe first landing is CLASSIC for caudal heel pain.

How the horse is ridden will also affect how they land. Heavy on the forehand with a tight, dropped back will cause a horse to land toe-first.

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Thank you all so much!

@JB , by front legs are under the body I mean they sort of come out of the body straight a little more caudal to the chest. Yes, they seem to come out of the body more towards his withers.I exaggerated. This horse has been muchly lame or NQR for a little over a year. Yes, the heels were chronically underrun and crushed a bit. he switched to my farrier (who is pretty good) 2 cycles ago and we’re on a 5 week schedule. Horse has had pads, wedge shoes and some other approaches over the last year. I don’t know the exact details.

@Jarrn He did have recent radiographs and no navicular changes were seen.

@Abbie.S , Bingo. He lands flat when ridden off the forehand and doesn’t seem “off” when ridden in balance. His owner is fairly new to riding and isn’t a savvy rider.

Next question, how would you address this? The vet is coming out soon for spring shots. [I’d like to plant some seeds in the owner’s ear (owner is a good friend)]

Everything that makes a horse healthier and happier is about:

  • proper hoof balance
  • proper saddle fit
  • proper ridden work

A rider fairly new to riding isn’t (yet) capable of riding a horse asking him to shift weight back. A horse whose hind feet or hocks hurt isn’t capable of shifting weight back. A saddle that doesn’t fit well doesn’t allow a horse to move into that space and use his boy.

The best-conformed horse with the best feet can be ridden into poor health by poor riding. They all have to work together. The BEST thing an owner can spend money on is good riding lessons, even if it means on a lesson horse for a while

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I have been riding the horse recently, and conveyed my concerns to the vet who will be coming out to do spring shots/dentals for many because I am coordinating this rather large visit. She has worked on this horse.

Yeah, the issue is how to instruct the owner to ride better. There is a resident trainer at the barn but the the issue is that the owner thinks he knows more than what he actually knows and doesn’t take lessons. I’ll be threading the needle with my suggestions.

ETA, the owner rides this horse maybe once or twice per week. Short, unbalanced rides.

Also keep in mind he could just be bilaterally lame on those heels. Which would not make him appear off until you block one foot. There’s so much we just can’t judge on X-ray unfortunately.

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