You can learn a great deal looking at your horse’s hooves from behind. The heel height is a very important feature of the hoof and can provide important information about the health of the hoof and the likelihood for lameness.
Ideally, the inside (medial) and outside lateral heels are the same height. The heel should be a “modest” height – not too high and not too low. That sounds imprecise but the fact is that different breeds and types of horses have widely different heels.
Start to look at your horse’s heels this way. Once you begin looking, you will start to notice differences among horses. Wide heels are generally considered more desirable. Narrow heels are known as “contracted” and can indicate a variety of underlying problems in the hoof. If the inside or outside heel is noticeably higher, that is known as a sheared heel. A sheared heel tells us a great deal about the forces being generated within the hoof.
A key observation is how symmetrical the left and right hooves are.
In the accompanying image, I have labeled the medial (inside) heels. The lateral heels are white arrows without labels. Note that inside and outside are similar heights, and left and right are symmetrical. The yellow line is an indication of the straightness (correctness) of the lower limb. The red line is an indication of hoof width at the heel.
To assess your horse’s lower limbs from behind, be sure the hooves are picked clean and that the horse is standing on a flat, level surface. Stand to the left side of the horse. Look at the left hoof. Are the inside and outside heels the same height from the ground? How high are the heels?
Now look at the right hoof, again assessing whether the inside and outside heels are the same height. Now, how do the heel heights of left and right forefeet compare to one another. How wide are the hooves at the heels and how do they compare to one another? How deep is the central groove of the frog? Compare the left and right hooves.