Over-reaching is a term that describes a horse self-inflicting trauma on the heel area of a front foot by hitting it with the toe of the shoe on a hind foot. When horses are working at speed, changing directions and decelerating quickly, the stage is set for this type of incident to occur. With most horses it is an isolated event caused by a quick reaction to what a steer does or a stumble, but some horses have chronic over-reach problems based on the way they move and work.
The type of trauma incurred with over-reaching is usually bruising of tissue with the possibility of a wound if contact is made above the hairline. Typically, one can hear or feel a horse hit himself as it happens in the course of a run. The degree of trauma is usually immediately evident, as the horse will favor or limp on the affected leg. One should check to see if there is any open wound in the heel bulb area, and begin treatment immediately. Because of the location and type of wound in these incidents, suturing or stitching is not effective. The wound should be cleaned and bandaged with an antibiotic dressing, such as nitrofurazone (i.e., Furacin).
Depending on the severity of the wound and pain the horse may show, an anti-inflammatory drug such as phenylbutazone (Bute), Banamine or Ketofin can be given systemically.
The majority of over-reach problems are quite temporary, and the horse is moving soundly by the next day. The only treatment needed is to keep any wound protected with topical antibiotic dressing under a light bandage. If the degree of lameness isn't improving in a few days, or more importantly gets worse, a professional evaluation by a veterinarian is indicated. The worse-case scenario is damage to the lateral cartilage or wing of the coffin bone-that can only be evaluated with radiographs (X-rays).
A more common complication is infection occurring where there has been some separation between the hoof wall and sensitive lamina. In this case, debridement, or opening up, of the area, followed by regularly soaking the foot in hot water with Epsom salts is indicated.
As with most things, prevention is far more desirable than treating the problem after the fact. Because of the risk roping horses run with this problem on their job, I believe in routinely using bell boots. The type or brand is strictly personal preference. I have seen horses still hurt themselves by over-reaching with bell boots on, but I think the protection they provide is well worth the effort and cost of using them.
If your horse repeatedly over-reaches, and it becomes a chronic problem, there are a couple of things to consider. Discussing a different way of trimming and shoeing your horse with a competent farrier can be helpful. The other consideration may be in working on more "rate" or control in the way the horse works and how you ride him. STW