The Hoof Landings Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

– with apologies to Athanasius Kircher for modifying his drawing

This isn’t even remotely what I expected to be writing about right now. In authoring my recent series on heel-first landings, I assumed that everyone likely to read them was familiar with the definitions of the various types of landings – probably because what the different landing types are called are, in themselves, accurate descriptions of what happens when the hoof contacts the ground. That seemed like a completely logical assumption, since in my 20+ years of discussing this subject with all types of hoof care providers, horse owners, veterinarians, and students, I’d never encountered a single person who didn’t understand these distinctions.

Until now. For the past several days, I’ve been carrying on an interesting and lively exchange with some hoof care providers on Facebook over what constitutes a “good” landing for a horse, with them insisting that a heel-first contact is healthy and normal. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I steadfastly believe this to be not only incorrect, but damaging as well. Consequently, we’ve been going round and round, making absolutely no progress at all, until trimmer Dora Libby pointed out that the landings they’ve been observing in a number of videos on YouTube are improperly labeled as showing heel-first landings when they’re very clearly flat landings. So it’s now evident we’ve really been disagreeing over semantics rather than biomechanics!

Yes, this is a big deal. Proper landings are not only a major topic of controversy in the hoof care and horse worlds, but are also very important for the long-term comfort and soundness of your horse, as you’ll see in the upcoming series on navicular disease. So if much of the apparent disagreement “out there” is really a matter of definitions, the first order of business must be to get that straightened out.

The definitions I’ve always used and taught are the same ones Dr. Rooney used in Biomechanics of Lameness in Horses. They’re easy to understand because, as I’ve previously stated, the landing type also describes what happens as the foot contacts the ground. In the front-to-back (A/P) direction, there are three possible ways a hoof can make contact: toe-first, heel-first, and flat.

In a toe-first landing, initial ground contact is with the bottom leading edge (“toe”) of the hoof, followed by a rapid front-to-back rotation of the coffin joint as the foot comes under load, until the heel buttresses (“heels”) contact the ground. Note, by the way, that Jaime Jackson points out in The Natural Horse that toe contact can occur in several different areas of the toe, including a single region directly at the toe, or two regions located symmetrically or asymmetrically about the toe. In my experience, toe-first landings are the least common type, which is fortunate because they’re also the most potentially destructive.

In a heel-first landing, initial ground contact occurs in the opposite order: the rear-most bottom part of the hoof – the heel buttresses – contact the ground first, followed by a rapid back-to-front rotation of the coffin joint as the foot comes under load, until the toe contacts the ground. This is far and away the most common type of landing I see, and trimming or shoeing to accomplish it is the stated objective of many hoof care professionals, veterinarians, and horse owners. But this is also a destructive type of landing, as my upcoming articles on navicular disease will explain.

In a flat landing, the toe region and the heel buttresses contact the ground simultaneously, with no rotation of the coffin joint following ground contact. Note that as pointed out in The Myth of the Heel-First Landing – Part 3, the heels of horses who live on softer terrain will actually penetrate the terrain on ground contact and therefore have no coffin joint rotation as the foot comes under load. This is effectively a flat landing under those conditions, but be aware that the same horse will exhibit a distinct heel-first landing on harder terrain.

Play Image

To help make the differences more obvious, I’ve produced the YouTube video above showing clear examples, in slow motion, of each type of landing, along with a bit of commentary. Please share it with other hoof care providers and horse owners so we’re at least on the same page when it comes to discussing this very important topic!


  1. Elizabeth M. Witham says:

    Steve! I am so happy you are sharing this important information. I hope you start a “movement” toward full foot landings everywhere, and healthier, happier horses. This is such vital information, and you do an excellent job making it clear and understandable. Thanks so much!


  2. Jutta says:

    Hi Steve,

    I have perused (meaning: read repeatedly) your articles and yet I am still not convinced that a flat hoof-landing is what we want for the horse.
    1- Flat landing implies that the foward-acting force would make the hoof slide in its entirety slightly foward and essentially rasp the hoof. It’s the typical landing farriers strive for when they shoe the horse, obviously, because heel first landing would be highly uncomfortable for the shoed horse (as shoes extends beyon the heel).
    2- Hard and flat surfaces (essentially a concrete surface), don’t abound under natural circumstances, so most of the time a 100% flat landing would not even be possible for feral horses.
    3- Our gelding has never been shod and displays a very harmonic-looking heel first landing except when going uphill.
    4- The only barefoot horse I have met with a perfect flat landing has less than satisfactory movement and is very tender. He displays the typical careful movement that shoed horses display on concrete surfaces, because heel first would crush their heels against the shoes.
    5- Proper landing of feral horses can only be identified using high-speed cameras, if such do exist, I would be grateful, if you could direct me to such.
    6- Flat landing ignores the important function of the heel cushion in the landing process. Still, I can well imagine that the angle of the heel-first landing might well be smaller the faster the gait, especially as the horse extends its leg more in faster gaits.

  3. Milagros says:

    Your style is so unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from.

    Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I
    will just bookmark this blog.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy it. Yes, I wish I had more time to post more frequently, because I genuinely enjoy sharing this information.


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