Lindsay Cotterell DAEP, Dip.IAZ

Why wedge a bare hoof to balance?

My 8 year old Welsh D gelding had not really moved correctly since a few months after he was started, as a 4 year old.  


We had great difficulty getting a saddle to fit, & initially thought this may be contributing to his obvious discomfort.


We went down the route of having his back checked, but he continuously seemed to be “out”.


We didn’t think he had sore hoofs, although barefoot, as he’d never been shod & never showed any more discomfort on hard or soft surfaces.


Finally after over 3 years of various degrees of lameness, we consulted a vet.


To cut a long story short, after various tests performed including a body scan, x-rays, & nerve blocks, we were told he had sore feet, as he was barefoot, & that when shod he’d probably be fine.


He wasn’t.  He was dull eyed, seemed in pain & still lame. On the third shoeing, after consultation with the vet & looking at the X-rays, he had wedges added to the hind hoofs to raise his heels. He seemed to move slightly better but was still in obvious discomfort & dull eyed. On consulting a sports therapist, after he’d been shod, she initially found poor & unusual movement, particularly in his left hind, & several areas of tension throughout his neck & back.  


The vet suggested if he was no better after 9 months of their initial diagnosis, March 2012, then he would never be sound.


Fortunately, we were recommended to Lindsay, who recognised from the X-rays, that his hoofs were incorrectly balanced.


All thanks to Lindsay – within about 12 weeks I could start riding my horse again.  Even sooner than that, he began to look interested in his surroundings & his eyes became bright again.


After about 5 months, I was able to ride him at all paces & start jumping him again.  The sports therapist noted a tremendous improvement as the tension gradually disappeared, after his shoes were removed.


Currently, a year later my barefoot horse is happy & working well, continuing to develop his paces.  Without Lindsay’s intervention, he would no doubt have been put down by now due to unsoundness, & a really nice horse would have lost his life for no good reason, other than misinterpretation of x-rays leading to misdiagnosis & unsatisfactory treatment by the vet & his ‘expert’ farrier.




When the owners of an 8 year old Section D gelding arrived for an assessment, the most surprising observation I made was his total lack of interest visiting a new place.  He just stood there barely taking time to observe the new environment and he even started closing his eyes to the surroundings, rather than embracing them with interest.  


He arrived remedially shod with wedges in his hinds, elevating his heels.  He had never been shod before ordinary shoes were applied on two six week cycles previous to this latest set.  The decision was then made to use ‘remedial’ farriery and his wedged hinds had been on for approx 4 weeks.  I had already sent his owners a written assessment of xrays taken and my report had been verified by an independent Equine Veterinary Podiatrist.  





This imbalance had resulted in deterioration and atrophy of soft tissue suspending his coffin joints leading him to be virtually ground parallel on both hind hooves, resulting in palmar hoof pain (pain to soft tissue at the back of the internal hoof) and postural discomfort.  Elevating his hinds changed his centre of mass creating increased pressure on his front hooves, and he was now experiencing palmar hoof pain (pain to soft tissue at the back of the hoof) in both fronts as well.  The xrays also revealed debris in his rear frog sulcuses which would indicate infection and soreness. Even for a horse that does not have ideal conformation, as in this case, by balancing the hoof capsule to the internal foot print, stimulus will promote growth where it is required to support such a limb.

The conventional view is to address this imbalance based in the theories of static mechanics, so wedges were placed under the heels to artificially ‘correct’ balance and change joint alignment.  The problem with this approach is that it totally negates the inner structures of the hoof and has proven to be inconsistent in its application as it is simply balancing on two planes, distal-proximal and dorsal palmar (up and down, forward and back) and not on all planes of balance of outer hoof to inner foot – or the internal foot print.  You cannot therefore achieve the foundations of anatomical balance and as a consequence you limit and even prevent the horse’s ability to achieve dynamic balance and dissipate and utilise energy correctly.  This energy under transformation is called Energetics – a far cry from the basics of static mechanics!

By setting the foundations of balance you can begin the process of returning health to the internal tissues at the back of the internal hoof – made up of cartilage, digital cushion, connective tissue, ligament and tendons all suspending the coffin bone – as stimulus will start to be correctly directed and dealt with appropriately as the hoof begins to function in dynamic balance.  The ability to control the forces of impact will reduce and stop trauma to soft tissue enabling it to repair on a cellular level restoring health.  By improving internal and external structures – via balance and correct stimulus – the horse will be comfortable as it can dissipate and utilise energy more efficiently which will provide dynamic equilibrium of function and correct transformation of energy throughout the whole horse.  


Planes of balance

It was evident from the xrays that the gelding was not balanced to his internal structures on all planes of balance and in particular, his distal toe growth was excessive on the distal to proximal plane – in other words, he had excessive growth on the toe plane of balance which was lifting his hoof up in the toe area - you can see how high (long) his toe area is from the xray.   This was causing a change in his joint alignment and to address this imbalance wedges were placed under the heel to raise them - from a two dimensional view point attempting to change joint angle and relieve pressure on the heels.


To fully appreciate the journey back to soundness and how different this lovely, cheeky and full of fun and energy this Gelding now feels, here are his owner’s comments:-…………

The easiest way to describe the impact of excess growth and imbalance of a high toe plane is pushing a door wedge under your toes while you try to stand up-right – you will instantly experience the postural discomfort throughout your whole body as this will raise your toes without bending them, so you are walking off your heels.  A good way to understand how this feels is to then try to walk – you can make it feel even worse if you lower your chin as though you are being made to work in an ‘outline’ then try and trot in a circle!  Understandably this was placing increased pressure on his heels causing pressure, bruising, back pain and postural discomfort.  Postural discomfort had been verified by further investigations where hot spots had been found along his back and described as ‘secondary’ to hoof pain of the pedal bones.  He was therefore described as footsore.


Removal of hind shoes and wedges revealed an atrophied frog and heels with extensive fungal infection.  This gelding had only been shod for a total of 18 weeks, the last 6 with wedge pads.  Debris had become trapped under the wedge, a sulcus split had begun to form and he was very tender in this region to finger pressure.  


Due to the level of bruising he found shoe removal very difficult to bear and constantly rocked back , almost sitting down on his quarters, despite each nail being removed separately to keep any pulling and lifting pressure to an absolute minimum.  This clearly indicated the extent of the bruising and inflammation of soft tissue he was experiencing.    






Before shoes removed and trimming, his posture shows that he is camped under with his front limbs, trying to relieve weight off his front heels and hind heels.   His whole body is full of tension particularly in the neck, lumber and hamstring areas.  By addressing balance you immediately influence soft tissue, joint alignment and pressure and for this gelding, the relief was immediate and he responded by licking and chewing and as you can see, he has already begun to lengthen his body and relax.  


I am so pleased that he continues to thrive and with the help of Sports Massage/Chiropractic treatment and Straightness Training he has not looked back .  It is such a shame that he had to tolerate so much discomfort for so long and his owner has had to find vast sums of money for investigations that did not provide a solid diagnosis.  He is still young, rising 9 years and continues to enjoy life to the full with his dedicated and loving owner.  Please read her journey below photos:-

Shod wedges posture