Forging in Young Horses

Q:My trainer says that my 1 1/2-year-old Thoroughbred colt is forging, but only at the trot. Is there something that can be done to correct this problem (i.e., specific exercises)? Is this common in young horses?


A:My first thought would be to make sure, through the trainer, that this colt is in fact "forging." The term means that the toe of the hind foot hits the bottom (weight-bearing surface) of the front foot on the same side. This happens as the hind leg advances forward just as the front foot is leaving the ground. A similar gait abnormality is called "over-reaching;" the difference is that in over-reaching the hind foot contacts the front foot sooner, striking the heel bulb region of the front foot. The likelihood of injury to the horse is much greater with an over-reaching situation, and the basic problem in both cases is an apparent lack of limb motion synchrony.

I don't know how common this problem is, but in my experience it's reasonably common in young Thoroughbreds. I'm not singling out this breed, but I've seen a greater incidence of forging in longer-legged individuals. Most of the cases I've seen resolved as the horses matured and/or continued their training. Young horses have a reasonably accelerated growth curve, and often it takes time to reach the more mechanically ideal situation.

Forging could also represent a coordination deficit. Generally, but not always, individuals with coordination problems are also problematic at the walk.

In the event that the problem persists, gets worse, or is actually over-reaching, I would suggest measures to mechanically augment or correct the situation. There are many ways to do this, as one is simply trying to make very minor changes in the landing and swing timing of the limbs. I tend to keep such corrections simple. Perhaps the most useful, in my experience, is to simply roll or square the toe of either the front or hind foot--or both on an individual with long-toe conformation. You are simply decreasing toe length with these measures. The mechanical effect is for the foot (or feet) to break over sooner and hopefully, by changing the timing, the involved feet will not collide. There are other ways to accomplish the same change in timing of motion (lighter shoe on front and barefoot behind, barefoot on all four, etc.). Most of these young, "leggy" individuals will correct with time and thus trimming and/or shoeing augmentations/changes might not be necessary.

In summary, what you describe isn't unusual. A decision to make changes with regard to the individual is best made with a careful examination of the whole horse and his or her way of going along with a discussion with your farrier.

About the Author

William Moyer, DVM

William Moyer, DVM, is the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M and is President-elect of AAEP.

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