There is 'flair' and then, there are "flares" . . . . . .
Of course, we all want our horses to have 'flair' but not the "flare" that indicates issues with their barefoot hooves (or shod hooves!).
Let's take a look at some flared hooves and you'll see just why you DON'T want to see these with regard to your horse's hooves.
(Photo from PENZANCE Equine Integrative Solutions files)
What you see above is a slight flare of the left front hoof. The yellow line shows the deviation from the angle the dorsal wall should grow (red line).
Above we see the front view. Red lines on untrimmed hoof show the flaring while the trimmed hoof is corrected.
OK ... well, let's just outline the flare on this hoof plus highlight what the growth tubules are exhibiting ...
As evidenced above, the blue lines show the direction of the growth of the horn that corresponds to the angle of the flare rather than the angle of the periople where new growth is developed (red line).
It is clearly evident here that the newer tubules (indicated by the red lines of the hoof wall), those that form the hoof, will follow the same angles as the older growth of the hoof. They start out straight at the periople, just below the coronary band, but then they begin to "flare out".
When a hoof is trimmed the form, the shape in which we leave the hoof, becomes the template into which the new horn will grow. Instead of continuing to grow straight angles down the hoof, the new growth begins to flare out, in this hoof as we see, just about an inch down the wall from the coronary band.
(digital trim showing how the angles of the tubules will change with a proper trim of the flare)
Do you know what that tells me about the flared hoof?
That the laminae is being stretched in a manner that weakens the attachment of the capsule to the inner foot at the point the flare begins. Again, in this case, just about an inch down from the coronary band.
(Photo courtesy of www.thehorseshoof.com)
The above photo shows the flare from the solar view. The red arrow is pointing to the easiest of the flare to see. You can see the separation at the white line. The following photo, also from TTH, shows the finished trim:
You can see that most of the flare has been removed thus tightening up the wall to the sole of the hoof.
Now there could be any one of several reasons for flare to take place. One being mechanical where the flare is not addressed during the trim cycles. Another reason being metabolic and still, another, being deficiencies in the diet and nutrition of that individual horse as well as environmental.
In wild horses, one will frequently see flaring towards the lower part of the wall of the hooves. This flaring causes separation of the wall to the foot in order to allow that portion of the wall to break off in a manner of 'self-trimming.
In this photo of pony hooves from a wild herd on the eastern shore of USA you can clearly see the long, flared hooves and the chipping that occurs.
(Wild hooves photos courtesy of tribeequus.com)
While the image below shows hooves that are trimming 'naturally' and the angles of the walls are clearly better than they were before the "self-trimming":
Now, this is a well-known photo of 'The Wild Horse Hoof Model":
You can clearly see the difference between the hooves above and this 'wild horse' hoof.
A major difference being how well rounded the wall is, how short the toe is and how different the angles are of the wall.
Why such a difference? Terrain/Environment. The "Wild Horse Model" came from a horse that lived in a dry, arid environment while the long-toed hooves shown above are on horses that live in a wet environment on the shoreline.
The horses adapt well.
That being said, domestic horses do not roam over hundreds of acres of land for the most part and do not always have a dry, arid terrain over which to move. That reason, alone, demands that humans have to take over the 'natural trimming' of our horses' hooves instead of letting nature take its course.
So, the hooves get trimmed by knife and rasp yet still have a flared wall. So what? The horse is still sound and apparently moving well.
Briefly stated, the laminae is the connective tissue that holds the hoof capsule on the inner foot. As I stated above, flaring indicates a weakening of that laminae due to stretching the tissue. While at the start of the flaring it might not present so much of a problem but if allowed to continue will damage the entire hoof from coronary on down to the ground. The separation between the hoof capsule and foot will allow all sorts of bacteria and fungus to get INSIDE the hoof capsule. This furthers the damage already caused by the stretched laminae. Think of White Line Disease, Gravel, Thrush, Yeast not to mention necrotic laminae tissue occurring as the laminae are killed off from lack of circulation and nutrients from the stretched, weakened state.
While its a general rule of thumb, when trimming hooves, not to trim more than 1/3rd the way up the hoof wall from the ground nor trim 1/3rd of the thickness of the wall, it is advisable to rasp the flare off as much as possible to mitigate the damages being caused by the compromised laminae.
Here you can see the straight walls and tubules of a very healthy hoof:
The tubule angles match the angle of the wall with no curvature - just nice straight angle showing this hoof wall is a tight unit able to do an adequate job of protecting the foot.
Take a look at the first photo in this post and compare this last photo with that one. What do you see? Can you SEE the difference? Now go take a look at your own horse's hooves and see what you can see. I hope you will find nice, tight, straight tubules and wall.
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Gwen Santagate is the author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" . For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She keeps a small herd of her own equines and continues to offer consults for horses in need.