Once and for all let’s make a concerted effort to debunk a popular myth that thoroughbreds have shelly walls, thin soles, pencil thin frogs and for these reasons they need shoes. “The hell!” I say. Even with wrong hoof care from birth to rescue/career change, the vast majority of OTTBs can be rehabbed to soundness. And gorgeous feet!


When I met him he was 12 years old, shod most of his life. He trained on the track but did not race. Cayuga was living at Tory Hill, a gorgeous farm with a herd of about 10 barefoot geldings, mostly OTTBs, with full turnout on huge and hilly pastures.

Left Front

Too much hoof capsule. Crappy Walls or Horn.

‘Beer Can’ feet. The heels are almost as long as the toe. This tells me that the coffin bone is  pointing down at a steep angle. The tip of the coffin bone is no doubt disintegrating from mechanical stress. Unfortunately, the farrier can only trim so much and then puts the shoe back on a long, misshapen foot to maintain it.  Rehab demands pulling the shoes.

Left Front Side View

The foot is sweeping forward, in front of the horse.

In a general sense, the green line indicates where the hoof will end after rehab. The Red points out (1) upward pressure of the shoe and (2) a long under run heel

Cayuga’s Straight Forward Rehabilitation:

  1. As I applied the mustang roll, mechanical pressure on the lamina was removed and the steep, well connected wall at the top half inch of the capsule grew right in.
  2. As this happens the hoof will get back under the horse. The entire foot will transform as the capsule becomes smaller and the heels shorten.
  3. Transformation is organic. A lot of things are happening at once.
  4. I never force any angle or any particular length because above the hoof is a unique body with unique movement.

Below, in 7 months, the hoof capsule looked more compact.  Soles and walls thicken. Heels open up as the frog and internal structures improve. The more movement and the healthier the diet, the better the foot.

LF 7 months later

7 months later a nicer foot, still on the mend.

Still a long capsule and long heels (as they appear from the outside) but over time it all corrects. Most importantly Cayuga was sound, ridden in padded Epic boots throughout.


This fancy OTTB had been in shoes long term. Sadly we didn’t make it to a full rehab before the owner put him back in shoes. He has some things to show us.

Unraveling Hoof Wall

This unraveling hoof wall with cracks around the nail holes is not being held together by the shoe.

Force comes down the leg, hits the shoe and runs back up the hoof and leg maintaining the cracks. To treat the unraveling wall, I would definitely use White Lightening to insure there is no bacteria maintaining the problem. Otherwise, it will grow out in about 3 months.

Long Heels

Solar View: Under run heels and long toe

From the hairline in the back of the foot to the heel where Smartie lands, you see about 2″ of heel length running under the horse. Many people misinterpret this saying their horses won’t grow heels. Smartie, and many horses, grow heels that run forward.

If the frog is healthy and can take a pounding from the current ground conditions, I’ll bring the heels back, and down, half inch at a trim. By the end of rehab the heels will in the back of the foot, next to the back of the frog. Above the frog, internally, the digital cushion and lateral cartilages begin to re-develop and give Smartie the structure he needs.

Above, the toe wall appears to be about 3″ in front of the end or apex of the frog. Much too long. If you wait about a week after pulling shoes, the horse will develop a toe callus and you can rasp the toe, 10:00 – 2:00, back to but not through, the toe callus. The callus looks like a long bump.

Personally I like to pull the shoes, round things up and leave the horse alone for a month. Pulling shoes is traumatic enough for one day.


Smartie feels 100% in padded Epics.

My Thoughts on Boots: Because Smartie has a long toe, he would not fit into The Trail or Generation 2. The top portion of the boots would rub his pastern. Boots that fit above the hairline are a good choice for the rounder foot that allows the leg to center in the boot.



If it looks like a Duck Foot, is it?

Just because long toes, complete disconnection of hoof wall to coffin bone and under run heels are seen on almost every Racehorse does not mean it’s normal! Can you imagine racing in these ‘duck feet’? Poor Bugsy was right off the track, shoes a dangling!

Above, if you ran your fingers from the hairline down the wall, you will find where the wall is well connected to the coffin bone. In Bugsy’s case there was a hint of connection!

Under run heels

Under run heels and a long toe, confirm what we saw from the top. Nice frog though.


Here comes the foot he wants, growing in from the top.

Don’t let the steep angle scare you. It will level off as the foot grows.

Janury, 09

Voila! The foot is now under the horse.

Over time, with lots of movement in a herd, the heel as it appears from the outside will shorter to about half this length. Bugsy still has a lot of rehabbing to do.

Love “Sunny” Days

5 years old. Just arrived from the rescue via New Holland Auction.

Thin shelly walls

Typical racehorse feet: Paper thin shelly walls. Laminitic rings from top to bottom.

Lateral view

Another straight forward rehab.

The black line indicates where ideal wall to coffin bone connection ends. It will take a few capsule growths (7 months per capsule for Sunny) to get things in order. During the spring he will lose a little connection on the bottom. And as viewed from the sole, he will loose a half inch of concavity. However, he does not go lame. Hacking out, he is happiest, in the spring, in his Gloves.

dinner time

Dinner Time at Tory Hill Farm, home to 7 barefoot Off the Track Thoroughbreds.

A Word on Long Term Rehab of Racehorses

As long as the horse has most of his coffin bone and the lamina aren’t necrotic, hoof rehabilitation of former racehorses is usually straight forward.

I gave Sunny off one year from ridden work. This allows all the micro tears and chips to heal or sort themselves out and drugs to clear. I re-started him as a colt in training. From learning ground manners, haltering, leading, ponying off another horse, desensitizing and plenty of in-hand work, former racehorses need a complete reboot if you want an exceptional friend.

I tweaked Sunny’s diet according to the teachings of Dr. Eleanor Kellon.

As for his body, I made an incorrect assumption that Sunny could fix himself in an active herd on 35 acres. Now I would have jumped on modalities available to me like chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, Equine Touch, Ortho Bionomy, sports massage, myofascial release. Learn from the professionals if you can.

Currently, unless I am stuck, I do all my own body work. Much more cost effective! There is a wealth of information on the Internet, in books and on DVDs. A horse can’t walk around on bad feet for years, ridden incorrectly at the track and not need serious attention to mind and body!

The wonderful thing about Thoroughbreds is that they are sensitive, smart and athletic. Most I have met really crave a relationship with good, kind people.

Happy Trails and Give your ponies a big hug for me!

Dawn of 4 Sweet Feet