Causes and Treatment of
Contracted Heels

What are Contracted Heels?

In a contracted foot, you will see heel buttresses that are pinched together giving the foot a long oval shape. Abnormally narrow heels with narrow heel buttresses will cause the frogs to be long and narrow also. Healthy front feet are usually roundish.


Although I'm not a Strasser trained trimmer, Dr. Strasser's definition is a good one. If you draw 2 lines from the tip of the frog and go posteriorly out the back of the foot, those 2 lines on a healthy foot should exit outside the heel bulbs. A contracted foot will have the lines exiting through the middle of heel bulbs. In other words, most domestic horses have contracted feet.

contracted hoof

What Causes Contracted Heels?

I believe the most common causes are shoeing young horses and also leaving shoes on too long. A horse foot is cone shaped and grows in an outward direction. A steel shoe does not expand and will obviously prevent that outward growth and expansion. Dissections of horses shod before they are full grown show unnaturally long narrow coffin bones which is what causes a long narrow foot.

In a similar way a full grown foot is not growing in size but the walls continue to grow in an outward direction due the cone shape. The walls want to grow wider as they grow longer (due to the cone shape) but the shoe forces the foot to stays the same width. This creates contracted heels. The longer the interval between shoeing, the more the heels will be contracted.

See my diagram below for a depiction of this principle. Although the effect in this diagram is exaggerated it shows how a foot with a shoe left on too long is forced to contract.


AA is the original shape of the outer hoof wall.
BB is the contracted hoof wall. 

Other less common reasons for a contraction include the heel and frog not being stimulated by ground contact. This could be caused by high heels, a horse that does not land heel first due to heel pain or a lack of exercise at a young age.

Other less common reasons for heel contractions mostly include reasons why the heel and frog are not being stimulated by ground contact. This could include high heels, a horse that does not land heel first due to heel pain, or a lack of exercise at a young age.


Remove shoes, exercise, repeat all day every day for the rest of the horse's life. A bare foot will decontract as much as it can given time. If feet remain contracted it is likely due to a contracted coffin bone which will not decontract. I don't believe in using any invasive procedure to decontract a foot.


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