Forward Foot Syndrome - Putting the Hoof Before the Horse

By Walter Friedrich


What is FFS?

Photo 1. Side view of FFS foot. Note that shod hooves do not escape FFS. Photo courtesy of

There is a common hoof condition that seems to have no name, so I'll coin the phrase "Forward Foot Syndrome" to describe it (FFS from here on). It can and does strike all breeds, shod or barefoot. It's all too prevalent, it leads to serious problems, and for the sake of our horses' comfort, we must know how to recognize and prevent or fix it.


Let's define it. I think most of you have seen Forward Foot Syndrome - fores oval rather than round, toe flared and stretched forward, heels underrun and contracted, breakover at the toe wall rather than somewhat underneath the foot, curved bars spread out or "laid over", frog long and narrow with the tip much too far forward and not attached to the sole, and probably some quarter wall flaring. (See Photos 1 and 2).


The first thing we need to know about it is that it is probably the most common and insidious problem for domestics' hooves. It sneaks up on our horses over time, and it happens because an afflicted horse is typically underexercised, too fat, and … NOT TRIMMED ENOUGH OR PROPERLY.


Horses are not doomed to develop FFS. But if our horse has it, we've got plenty of company. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that MOST domestics have Forward Foot Syndrome, to some degree.


What does a good trim look like? Well, the best model is the wild horse foot (see Photo 3). I'm not saying our domestics' feet should look just like wild horses', but wild horses' feet don't suffer from FFS, and there are lessons to be learned from them. Wild horses are well-exercised, certainly not too fat, and they have (for their lifestyle) excellent, natural trims.

Photo 2. Sole view of FFS foot. The untrimmed half shows long, underrun heel with a long, curvy, laid-over bar. Notice the stretched-forward, excess wall and toe. The other half, partially trimmed, shows the heel buttress more properly located and the bar properly trimmed. Line A represents the tip of the toe (untrimmed breakover in this case), line B represents the approximate location of breakover after trim is complete, line C is the widest point, line D is the location of heel buttresses before trimming, and line E is the location of heel buttresses after trimming. Note the ratios: the untrimmed sole-support ratio (buttress-to-widest:widest-to-breakover) is D-C:C-A. Once trimmed, the sole-support ratio shifts to E-C:C-B, much closer to the desired 65:35 ratio. Note that all it takes to accomplish this is trimming for proper placements of breakover and heel buttresses, since widest point stays where it is.


Most of us are diligent about getting our horses' hooves trimmed. Unfortunately, diligence alone won't cut it. Assume a foot that starts out in perfect condition but then starts receiving an improper trim. It may take months before we notice it's got FFS. When we see it, we scratch our heads and ask ourselves, "How could this have happened?" Well, it's sneaky, it takes time to develop, and we just don't notice it happening. The irony is that we have been diligent, paid out plenty in farrier fees or sore backs in our efforts to ensure good feet, yet there we see FFS - while all we needed to do to prevent it was to observe a few critical aspects of the trim itself.


Barring complications, it is easy to prevent as well as fix, although the fixing process may involve numerous proper trims over time. That's OK - the feet will be better at each trim than they were at the previous trim, and we'll get there step-by-step. We've just got to take that first step. You know the Chinese proverb.


Trimming to Prevent or Repair FFS

So far I've just tried to call attention to what I think is one of the most common - and preventable - of domestic hoof problems. Now I'll suggest some trim ideas that will go a long way in prevention or repair of FFS. What follows here is essentially the Less Is More trim (the LIM) - it's easy and very effective. This is not a detailed description of the LIM trim, it's only a basic guideline. (You can read it in more detail in the Files pages on the Yahoo Groups forum entitled "barefoothorsecare", which you can reach at


To wipe out FFS in your horse (as well as prevent it in the future), here are the trim aspects you need to observe:


First, trim frequently. A three- or four-week cycle is a good compromise between overworking your back or pocketbook and running the danger of letting hoof growth get away from you. In spring, however, on the new grass, four weeks will be much too long; you will see FFS developing by two weeks.

Photo 3. The ideal model (wild horse)


Second, be observant. At each trim study the feet on the ground before you pick one up. Make a mental note about what doesn't look quite right so you're sure to address it when you have hoof in hand. This is when you'll spot the existence of any flaring. Look at the toe from the side so you can see any toe flare developing and note how far you will need to back up the toe just to get it in line with the upper wall angle. Continue the study when you pick up the foot - the only tools you should have in your hand are your pick and your stiff brush.


Clean off the bottom thoroughly, including the commissures, removing any loose flaky sole that comes off readily, so you can see all foot and no dirt. Now look to determine the cause of any anomalies you saw before picking up, and note the condition of the sole components. Don't rush into rasping or cutting; take a moment and study what you've got, then plan out your work. That includes locating the widest distance across the foot, the location of the breakover, and the location of the heel buttresses. You can draw lines across the sole with a marking pen to map out exactly what you've got. Check out Photo 4 for a roadmap of the sole; note that the ratio between the two sections marked off by the lines is about 65 (heel to widest point) : 35 (widest point to breakover). If you don't see that on the foot in hand, determine why - have the buttresses worked their way forward since the last trim? Has the breakover disappeared or moved forward? These are sure signs of FFS developing.


Finally, go to the trim. You're going to address the specific problems that you spotted during your evaluation phase, then give the fores the 1-2-3 treatment. That is: 1) take down wall all around to live sole plane (the plane where wall and edge of sole share the ground contact), 2) make sure the heel buttresses are where they belong according to the 65:35 concept. It means bring them back close to the location of the frog buttress, which isn't going to change. Then 3) rocker the toe as needed to allow proper breakover and apply a mustang roll.

Photo 4.
Sole view of a nicely trimmed domestic hoof. Shows three critical denotation lines - breakover, widest point, heel buttresses. Note the ratio of spaces between the lines is about 65:35. Photo courtesy of Claire Vale


When correcting FFS, while all the above applies, the wall may need additional attention. Depending on the severity of flaring, you may need to remove the leverage that causes it by trimming away the bottom of the quarter walls to prevent any ground contact. For toe flares, some trimmers cut back the toe vertically to remove leverage. Applying the rocker/mustang roll instead of the toe cutback means that you're in little danger of taking it back too far, but you may have to touch up the toe more often than every 3 weeks.


Finally, some pertinent comments:

- Hinds don't get a toe rocker, but do get the mustang roll, and MAY need a vertical cutback at the toe if the toe wall has grown too long out front.


- Because of the differences in hoof shape and leg-joint function between fores and hinds, the support ratio (front-half:back-half) is probably closer to 50:50 in the typical hind foot.


-Don't trim the toe callus on any foot.


-You may need to trim the bars with the knife if you're trimming to correct a case of FFS, but when you're trimming to maintain a good foot, the bars should rarely, if ever, need much knife attention because they naturally wear well when more upright, as they should be to do their job.


-Normally, the frogs don't need trimming, but if they're stringy you can remove the raggedness. If they're deteriorated, you can address the issue holistically (improve nutrition and maintenance, boost health and immunity with homeopathy or other whole-horse approach) or perhaps just topically (apple cider vinegar or tea-tree and essential oil solutions).


- The essence of the LIM trim is that you do no more than the hoof calls for. You bring the heels back to the frog buttress, put the breakover far enough underneath so that the foot can start locating it naturally, and balance the foot according to the live sole plane. In so doing, you're readying the hooves for the forces that act upon them while the horse moves. This trim encourages the heels to expand rather than contract, the bars to become straight rather than curled, and the frog to regain health and fatten up to make initial ground contact rather than deteriorate.


If your horse is already afflicted with FFS, you can fix it, over time, by applying these principles. If your horse does not suffer from FFS, he's probably getting a trim similar to the above - lucky horse. Once FFS is a fact with your horse, it may take time to bring those hooves back to health, but you can do it. It's not difficult, but you must be diligent - do frequent trims and ALWAYS follow all three steps. Take "before" pictures so you can compare the "afters" - you may even frame them side-by-side, you'll eventually feel so good about it.


About the author:

Walt Friedrich is a barefoot-horse trimmer who shares his life with wife, dog, cat, and four Paso Fino horses on a mountaintop in Northeast Pennsylvania. His horses have always been barefoot, and he's done his own trimming for years.


For more information: (Yahoo Groups Internet Forum)