Q: My horse’s feet seem to splay outwards at the bottom, then chip. What’s going on and what can the farrier do about it? He is a barefoot horse now and mostly gets ridden over the farm and a bit at the beach.
A: Hi Kim. What you’re describing may be what we refer to as ‘flares’.
In an ideal horse, the outside of the hoof wall should be in a straight line from coronet to ground. That is, regardless of the angle of the hoof wall (which is another topic), it should be straight and consistent from top to bottom at any one point.
For various reasons (some of which are mentioned below), the hoof can distort and when this happens, the hoof will be forced outwards and away from the original angle causing what we often call a flare. This usually happens gradually over time. In extreme cases, the flare can give the appearance of a ski-jump. We commonly expect to see flares on one or both sides of the hoof.
Flares can be caused by various elements. As they are predominantly a balance abnormality, anything that affects balance can in theory encourage flaring. This includes, unlevel feet, incorrect trimming, over rasping (weakening) of the hoof wall, conformational problems and so on.
One of the most common causes of flares is irregular farrier visits. Leaving the feet too long in between farrier appointments so often causes flares and deviations of the hoof wall.
To prevent flaring, remove the cause to start with but careful realignment of the hoof wall should be done. Depending on the horse, this might be best attempted in one go or over multiple farrier visits. Your own farrier will advise on the best approach. This is usually done by rasping the hoof carefully (but avoiding excessive rasping which may weaken the hoof and cause further flaring) and sometimes, corrective farriery.
It’s important to be aware that flares usually get worse with time or not being removed. A minor flare if left will very often end up being a major distortion.
I expect the chipping problem is associated with the flares. Allowing the hoof wall to become distorted is likely to cause it to weaken or leave it more exposed and susceptible to breaking up/chipping. Addressing the flares will give you a better chance of preventing excessive chipping.
Allowing the hoof to flare/distort also increases the chance of other hoof related issues (seedy toe, laminitis, abscesses to name just a few).
Talk to your farrier and come up with a plan between you that may include them removing the flare and yourself continuing to maintain regular farrier visits.
David Hankin Dip.WCF
this article first appeared in NZ Horse & Pony magazine in February 2010