The first thing to be able to do for taking care of your horse’s hooves is to just be able to recognize there is a problem. In this article we’ll be talking about and looking at what flared walls are and why they happen.
Flared walls is a term used to describe the outside hoof wall coming off of the internal structure and they end up looking “flared”. Meaning there is a curve from the top of the hoof to the bottom, rather than a more straighter line.
If you have ever taken a good look at the horses in your care and/or at the barn you are at, you may see quite a few that look like this:
Hopefully not, but I would expect that you would see quite a few if you looked closely. Every single time I walk by a horse I take a moment to check it’s hooves and note if the hooves look healthy or not. This allows you to get a practiced eye to recognize what is common and uncommon. Detecting flaws is another thing altogether as in many cases you would see every single horse at a barn to have problems but you wouldn’t know it if you were going on averages.
If you never have before, or have limited experience so far, the first thing I would suggest before doing anything with the hooves is to study the anatomy of the hoof. If you can get to a clinic or know somebody that can help you, then I absolutely recommend getting a cadaver foot and/or leg, and examining it to help you link pictures to objects. There is by far nothing better than getting hands on when it comes to learning this stuff. That all said, I don’t believe it’s impossible to get a good idea of what is happening just with words alone.
When a hoof starts flaring on any part of it, it’s very important to figure out why and take action to stop that from continuing. To figure that out, you need to understand the hoof and how it works. There are piles of articles on the internet about this, so in this post I’ll cover it lightly to backup the thoughts I give for dealing with flares.
Here is that same hoof above but looking at it from the bottom. As you can see ,the quarters (the parts on each side of the hoof), are not as nicely attached to the sole of the hoof as the rest of the hoof wall. There is a gap between the wall and the sole, this is a perfect example of flared quarters.
The hoof is an amazing part of the horse, it will adjust and conform to match the horse’s health and environment. To put it simply, the flare is there for a reason to keep the horse in good health against the odds of something else that is causing it to be unhealthy or has the risk of making it unhealthy. The flares on this horse are there to protect the horse. It’s our job to make sure they don’t get worse, and in time, make them better. If let to continue, the rest of the walls can also be pulled off the internal structure, and if it all continues then you get laminitis and thin soles.
Flares are the direct manifestation of the laminae being broken down and stretching away from the coffin bone. This essentially makes the bond between hoof and coffin bone weak and in turn makes the whole hoof weak. The sole has to accommodate a bit more and the risk of chipping off hoof pieces is higher along with cracks in the hoof wall. That said, that sometimes seems to be the purpose of it from the horse’s perspective.
While there are a few other reasons, the main reason that you may see the hoof wall detaching from the coffin bone by way of break down of the laminae is insulin resistance. The starches and sugars in grain, certain feeds and brand new grass tends to up the glucose levels in the horse and the laminae weaken. Once that happens, there is then the direct impact of the hoof landing at particular angles that further pulls it off, and you have flare. Without correction, the hoof will continue to flare until shaped like a bell, in such a case, you now have a very weakened hoof.
Dealing with it from this point it determined by what caused it of course, diet is common, “road founder” or flaring due to impact from running on hard surfaces reduction and proper hoof trimming is essential. The flare will continue until the laminae can form back up and carry the hoof wall from the top of the hoof, all the way to the bottom. Likely first step is diet, reduce and/or remove sugars and starches from the horse’s feed. This is a big topic so I’ll leave it for another post, but I strongly recommend looking into what has sugar in it and what doesn’t.
From there the trimming is going to determine whether or not it gets worse or better. Trimming for a flare is a matter of getting the hoof wall that is flaring out, off of the ground. In the case here, the quarters. There is no reason to trim the sole at all at this point, but doing a vertical cut with a rasp down the foot from the outside to reduce the amount of hoof wall on the ground will stop the mechanical pulling of the hoof wall off of the weakened laminae. Essentially we are trying to get the outside edge of the hoof wall to come off the ground in hopes that the separation will be slowed down.
Trimming is a huge and sometimes controversial topic and if there is any doubt, chat with a barefoot farrier out there and ask what they think. The solution for this problem is usually quite universal until you get to a farrier that shoes horses for a living, from there the advice would likely be to shoe the horse. I would highly recommend not doing this as it damages the already damaged and weakened hoof wall and will keep the flare out, instead of allowing it to come back in. There are other options that work better to resolve the problem, rather than exacerbate it.
In the end, flared quarters aren’t the end of the world, but they do indicate there is a problem. In some cases a bit of flare can be helping the horse and as more research is being done they are finding there are less black and white answers and instead it becomes a bit grey. Recognizing it is key though, so hopefully this article has helped in that area.