Hoof Wall Flares, Cracks And Assorted Mayhem
A hoof wall flare is not a problem…it is a symptom. A hoof wall crack is a symptom that can be a problem. Fixing the symptom doesn’t fix the root cause or keep it from either getting worse and happening again. Hoof wall flares and cracks can be conformation issues or trimming issues, not to mention shoeing issues. I’m writing about these two issues together because the cause is often the same.
Let’s look at conformation issues first. You can do this at home. Stand with your feet about a foot apart. The pressure on your feet is evenly distributed on both. Now, without lifting your feet, try to make them closer together. Where is the pressure on your feet now? On the inside edge? Less pressure on the outside edge? This is a base narrow stance. Now, again without lifting your feet, try to spread your feet apart. Where is the pressure now? On the outside edge? Less pressure on the inside edge? This is a base wide stance. Narrow chested horses, for instance thoroughbreds, often have a base wide stance. Wider chested horses, like a quarter horse, often have a base narrow stance.
The same principle applied from front to rear. Heels that are higher than they should be will cause the front of the hoof wall to have more pressure. This applies to either shod or barefoot horses. Long toes cause a different problem.
So, what does this have to do with flares and cracks? The part that has more pressure on it is restricted in its growth. The part of the hoof that has less pressure on it is allowed to grow unimpeded. This is the area that can very easily develop a flare. It doesn’t take a lot to start a flare that will only keep getting worse. Cutting the flare off will only thin out the hoof wall and expose the stretched laminae making the hoof wall weaker and the problem worse.
Most of what I’ve found by lots of observation is that whenever there is a hoof wall problem the root cause is in the opposite side of the hoof. Hoof walls can both flare and crack where there is left pressure and they are allowed to get longer than the sole. A horse that is base narrow will have a shorter wall on the outside and the horses weight will be mostly there and the opposite inner side will be more susceptible to flaring and cracking. A base wide horse will have the weight on the inside of the wall and the opposite outside will be more susceptible to flares and cracks.
If a horse’s heels are left too high or by conformation they tend to be more upright, the front wall will become dished and perhaps crack. This can be seen either shod or barefoot. A hoof left long for a long time has no choice to dish out and stretch the laminae. Nature tells it to break off, but if there is a shoe on or they only walk in soft dirt, the toe gets longer, the heels fold under and the front cracks, sometimes pretty high up. Most farriers have seen that, but what can be done to fix it? First, take away the root cause. Don’t try to fix the crack without fixing the problem, or else it either won’t get fixed, or it will come back again.
There have been countless articles on how to fix cracks. More articles than how to prevent them from happening in the first place. One of the more interesting was actually a Kentucky Derby winner. The media was very impressed at how the farrier actually stitched the quarter crack together and then nailed a shoe on. There have been metal plates and bands, wire stitching and all kinds of adhesives.
Prevention is the best fix I know. The best trim will prevent flares and cracks whether barefoot or shoeing. If the sole and frog are the main supporting structures the hoof wall will naturally be tight to the laminae. Using the sole to trim the hoof wall will balance the coffin bone to the ground and the laminae will be balanced and therefore the hoof wall. The hoof wall flares or cracks because there is more pressure than it was designed for. The quarters are the thinnest part of the hoof wall and if there is any excess pressure there they are the first to show signs…bulging and then cracks. If there are quarter cracks, look to the hoof balance, not the crack. Unloading the quarters is generally the best way to fix a quarter crack. Root cause, not symptom.