When laminae is healthy and the attachment between bone and hoof strong, the foot will maintain a compact form, without distortion. A healthy hoof will fit tightly around the coffin bone and other healthy internal structures without defects such as rings, cracks, flares, bull nose, etc.
Many factors can contribute to a horse getting hoof distortions:
- How the horse loads their feet, their stance
- The trim applied to the foot
Here in Pennsylvania, with our very wet climate, it is very common to see horses with good feet overall still have minor hoof capsule distortions, prevalent due to the high moisture content of the foot and horn. On healthy maintained feet we most commonly see small flares on the wall that are addressed in one trim without overly thinning the wall.
So how should hoof capsule distortion be addressed? There are many different techniques and many pros and cons to each method. The biggest concern I come across is how high up should a wall distortion be addressed. Some people feel removing flare higher up the wall would thin the wall too much, while others feel by addressing flare on the bottom 1” or so of wall leaves distorted tubules higher up the foot that continue to contribute to flare. Pros and cons both ways!
My approach to addressing hoof capsule distortion comes from working on so many laminitic and foundered horses. Laminitis, being inflammation of the laminae, can happen systemically, metabolically, or mechanically. When inflammation of the laminae gets significant enough, intercellular edema occurs and the laminae fail causing rotation and/or sinking of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. Especially during and after laminitis, it is critical that the load of the foot be transferred off the compromised laminae and onto the structures at the back of the foot. While we can accomplish this in several different ways, the ultimate goal is to realign the coffin bone and hoof capsule as quickly as possible, thereby getting leverage off the damaged laminae. My experience has led me to trim the foot aggressively, removing any distortions and re-centering the hoof capsule around the displaced coffin bone as much as possible even in the very first trim.
Here is an example of a foundered horse with a coffin bone and hoof capsule that were out of alignment, then several months later showing the corrected hoof capsule alignment. If I hadn't removed the disortion at the toe on this horse, the new growth coming in at the coronary band would continue to pull away from the coffin bone.
Compare that case of laminitis to the feet in this case. Is this laminitis or flare? Just a long toe? When does the mechanical leverage become detrimental to the horse?
I would imagine we would all agree that a healthy foot should have minimal distortions. If mechanical damage to the laminae is the potential end result of flare, I choose to be more aggressive in addressing it.
This idea can be applied to the smallest of distortions. Here is an example of an Irish Sport Horse who we trimmed for several years. This horse has a history of chronic quarter cracks and white line disease which we eradicated over time.
He then moved to a different state and had a different farrier. These are his feet more recently:
It's interesting to me to see the difference in one method of addressing flare compared to another. You make a value decision as to which method you feel is helping this horse minimize hoof capsule distortions and defects. Personally, I don't like that his cracks are coming back and he has separation in the white line in his quarters again.
My experience leads me to address flare by matching the wall growth approximately 1” below the coronary band all the way to the ground in a cone shape. I believe that the benefits of straightening the horn tubules outweigh the potential drawbacks of thinning the wall higher up the foot. Through photo documentation of our clients' horses over the last nine years, we have seen a significant reduction in hoof capsule distortion and defects based on addressing flare this way without apparent detriment by thinning the wall higher up the foot.
The best part of getting rid of flare on your horse's feet? Your hoof boots fit better!