Shoeing Techniques to Optimize Hind Hoof Unrollment

Shoeing Techniques to Optimize Hind Hoof Unrollment

Dutch researchers recently evaluated shoeing techniques to optimize hind hoof unrollment (or toe movement through the horse’s stride).


One of the many tools farriers use in shoeing horses is the clips they strategically build into horse shoes. A team of scientists in The Netherlands noticed that over the years fully fitted, toe-clipped shoes in the hind feet have given way to set-back, side-clipped shoes in their part of the world. Additionally, previous research had shown that rolling horses' toes encouraged smooth hoof unrollment (or toe movement through the horse’s stride) in the forelimbs. So the team set out to identify which option best encouraged optimal hind hoof unrollment.

In the study, the team—led by Bernadette Spaak, DVM, MSc, a veterinary surgeon at the Ambulatory Clinic for Animals, in Utrecht, the Netherlands—explained that weight distribution across the foot is an important consideration for horses in many disciplines, and the differences in hind leg movement as compared to foreleg movement can result in different pressures on the foot.

Terms to Know

Breakover: The moment the heels lift off the ground

  • Unrollment: The toe's movement through the horse’s stride
  • Toe clip: A single clip on the front of the shoe
  • Side clips: A pair of clips with one on each side of the shoe
  • Breakover: The moment the heels lift off the ground

The hind limbs tend to slide when they contact the ground rather than bounce as the front limbs do, the team explained, so they take on more forward-and-back force than up-and-down force, especially during turns and sideways motions. While toe-clipped shoes are common for many horses, Warmbloods are typically shod with side clips on the hind feet to shift their breakover point farther back and prevent them from interfering with the front hooves when moving.

“Even hoof unrollment movement is thought to be more smooth, resulting in less jerking and/or straining of ligaments, joints, and tendons,” said Spaak. “When unrollment is uneven, movement is less smooth, with the possibility of more straining, resulting possibly in injury.”

The team shod 10 sound Warmbloods first in standard toe-clipped shoes then in both a standard side-clipped shoe or a modified prototype shoe (which had side clips and a mildly rolled toe), with two days built in between shoeings to allow horses to adapt to their new shoes. Shoes were changed out every two days. Before each shoe change, scientists collected data on the force distribution through the foot at the trot and hoof angles by jogging the horses on a pressure/force plate on a concrete track.

Key study findings included:

  • The results did not indicate that breakover or stance time differed between the two groups. (Breakover is the part of a stride between the time the heel leaves the ground and the point at which it rotates above the toe, which is still in contact with the ground; Stance time is defined as the time between initial to final contact with the surface.)
  • With side-clipped shoes, the position of the pressure point at toe-off shifted back.
  • The addition of a rolled toe on the modified shoe appeared to encourage hoof unrollment and allow limbs to move more freely.

Spaak encourages horse owners to talk to their farrier or veterinarian to determine whether side- or front-clipped shoes are best for their horse, based on the animal's conformation and discipline.

More research into the subject is needed, since she noted that this study cannot definitively illustrate the way all horses’ hind limbs move on all surfaces in response to the types of shoes in the study.

“What we need to do next is find a research set up where we can have horses perform in more natural conditions whilst being measured,” she said.

The study, "Toe modifications in hind feet shoes optimise hoof-unrollment in sound Warmblood horses at trot," will appear in the July issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal

About the Author

Natalie Voss

Natalie Voss is a freelance writer and editor based in Kentucky. She received her bachelor's degree in equine science from the University of Kentucky and has worked in public relations for equine businesses and organizations. She spends her spare time riding her Draft cross, Jitterbug.

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