Rural Heritage Village Smithy

Foot Dragging
by F. Thomas Breningstall

"I have a 3-year-old that tends to drag his back feet, usually while he is out in the pasture," writes Linda from Minnesota. "Earlier this summer he wore his toes almost down to the white line. The farrier thinks something must be wrong, maybe a back problem, but the vets can find nothing wrong. They think he may be lazy. He is a little cowhocked in back. Any clue as to what might help this horse?

"Our farrier believes that if you put shoes only on the front, you will throw the horse totally out of balance. Other people tell me this is just not so, and they shoe only the front feet. Obviously my horse that drags in back needs shoes in back, but what about our other horse? Is it better to shoe all four or only the fronts?"

Horses that drag their hind feet as you described are, as your vets have said, lazy. Sometimes a horse doesn't pay attention to what his hind feet are doing. If he drags his feet only at a walk when you're leading him, try checking his head up. Do this by walking close to his head. Put the lead rope in your right hand and hold it close, about 8" from the halter. Ask him to raise his nose by pulling up on the lead rope, above his nose.

Checking the head up does three things:

  1. You have his attention—he's thinking.
  2. It opens up his underside, making the muscles work.
  3. Since he can't see his hind feet, he will pick them up higher to avoid tripping on things he can't see.

If he drags his feet all the time I would look into a stifle or bone spavin problem. It may not hurt to look into these areas, anyway. I doubt the cowhocks are the problem.

Dr. Beth Valentine, this site's Virtual Vet, suggests further, "If stifle or bone spavin problems do not seem to be the cause, I would wonder about stiffness or weakness of the muscles in the hind limbs. I have great videos of EPSM draft horses either dragging their hind feet or wearing the toes down tremendously. They also tend to have a not-quite-normal action in the hock/stifle joints (which are linked), which can range from subtle 'stabbing' actions to something that looks like the stifle is locking terribly. Usually lazy horses drag or stumble on the front, where they carry most of their weight "

As for shoeing just the fronts, I have many horses that I shoe only in front and they go just fine. Horses carry something like 60% of their weight on the front, so the fronts sometimes show the need for shoes before the rears do.

Barring reasons of lameness, conformation, or usage, the main reason we shoe a horse is to protect the hoof. If the hoof wears off faster then it grows, if the sole bruises or the walls chip or crack, then shoes are needed to protect the feet.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in Summer 1998 issue.

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16 April 2012 last revision