Especially at any gait faster than a walk, your horse should land on his or her heels first – period! Even at the walk, most horses will land on their feet with a heel-first motion, the motion continues and the toe should be the final part of the hoof that hits the ground. This motion allows for the foot to perform as it has been so perfectly designed by Mother Nature with the back third of the foot absorbing the majority of the impact.
This being said, I’d like to address another issue: Why it’s important for horses to be able to land pain-free on their heels?
1. The heel is the part of the hoof that first impacts the ground on landing. If your horse’s heels hurt, they will try to compensate to alleviate the pain.
2. The heel is the part of the hoof that is designed to expand upon landing with the digital cushion absorbing the impact. Landing correctly allows the foot to function properly.
3. The hoof itself is the base for all of the structures above it – enabling them to flex and to absorb the impact of a 1000 lbs. horse. If a horse doesn’t or won’t land on his feet correctly, the whole gait changes and all of the associated joints, tendons, ligaments, etc. are in jeopardy of being injured.
4. Without a level, pain-free landing, a good break-over cannot be executed.
Quick story: I had a conversation with a friend of mine about how horses land – he was certain that they landed on their toes and then pushed right off of their toes. I asked him to try to walk that way himself – land on your toe and go forward – it was a lightbulb moment for him! When he tried to walk toe-first, he actually went backwards! Yup, heel-first unless you want to go in reverse!