A club foot in horses is identified by a severely dished toe and a heel that is much too high. In severe cases, it looks almost as though the horse is standing on stilts. Club foot is thought to be a genetic problem, and is mostly seen in Arabian and Morgan horses. Although severe cases are easy to tell at a glance and typically prevent the horse from being ridden, more mild cases can be overlooked.
How can you tell if your horse has a club foot? Typically the horse, when grazing, will stand with the club foot back and extend the normal foot. They often also lead with the normal foot and stumble on the club foot. Measuring the angle of the hoof to the ground can be useful as well, as a club foot will have an angle of more than 60 degrees. The heel on a club foot will be higher than the normal foot, and the hoof will also be narrower and have a smaller frog. Additionally, the shoulder of the normal side of the horse will be rounded, muscular and normal looking, while the shoulder of the club foot will appear to be sloping.
It is generally understood that a club foot can form when a horse is imbalanced, forming on the short side of the horse as a compensation. Therapeutic shoeing, often with pads to assist with the balance issue, can lead to miraculous results, making the horse more comfortable and sound. In very severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Because of the genetic implications, no horse with a club foot should ever be bred.