Hoof Flares in Horses
This post has been adapted from my previous blog, The Handy Horse Owner.
We’ve likely all seen a horse with a hoof flare–an outward bending of the hoof wall. It seems that flares have become increasingly common on domestic horses today, but a flared hoof is not natural and is definitely not healthy for the horse.
While visiting a barn with a trainer friend of mine a while back, I was reminded of just how bad hoof flares can get. The picture above is of a horse that was supposedly trimmed by a traditional farrier just a few days prior. Aside from having bad flares, the horse had two extremely unbalanced front feet. It was all I could do not to trim those hooves right then and there!
You can easily see a severe flare (like the one above), and many times, you can feel a slight flare if you run your fingers down the outside of the hoof. Flares can occur on the toe or on the quarters (sides) of the hoof. Some are bell-shaped, while others are straight (but at a different angle than the top portion of the hoof.)
A flare, also known as a stretched white line, is a separation of the hoof wall from the coffin bone. And once this separation has occurred, it cannot be simply reattached. Rather, a new connection must grow in from the coronet down.
So what exactly causes hoof flares in horses? The contributing factors can be many, but here are a few:
- infrequent/ improper trimming
- wet environments
- mineral imbalances
- constant shoeing
- high sugar/starch diets
- lack of movement
Flares are not comfortable for the horse. You could compare them to your fingernail being pried away from the skin on your finger. Every time the horse’s flared hoof wall comes in contact with the ground, it’s prying the wall further away from the coffin bone. This is why overgrown and flared hooves tend to crack and break away in chunks. It’s the horse’s natural defense mechanism for getting rid of the flare and the pain.
So what can be done about flares? They need to go! You won’t be able to get rid of a bad flare in one or two trimmings, but if you are consistent with correct, frequent trimmings, you can get flares under control.
Pete Ramey recommends that the flared hoof wall be taken out of ground contact and beveled all the way to the sole. This will put the sole in contact with the ground, but that is far more comfortable than a stretched white line. The sole is actually meant to help bear the weight of the horse.
You can also rasp the outer, bottom 1/3 of the hoof wall to help eliminate flares. You don’t want to do too much at once, but this will help get them under control more quickly. The goal is to get the lower part of the hoof wall at the same angle as the wall growing down from the coronary band at the top of the hoof.
Horses in wet climates are especially prone to flares and may need to be trimmed as frequently as every 2-3 weeks. If you don’t trim your own horses, find a trimmer/ farrier who will help to eliminate the flares. And keep them coming out on a regular schedule. You can even learn to use a rasp to knock back flares in between trimmings, if necessary.
Hoof flares are a nasty nuisance to our horses, but with diligence, they CAN be corrected and eliminated!