What Do You See? What Do I See?

Late this past summer I began trimming an elderly horse who’d been subclinically laminitic for years. I requested radiographs as it was clear he’d had some changes to his bony column and that he had not been being trimmed in a way that was helping to correct that. We made some preliminary diet changes and then we looked at the film.

It is typical that a coffin bone, when it rotates, also tilts laterally. A telltale sign of rotation is a horse with a straight medial wall, a flare on the lateral and rings that dip at the toe and the heel. This guy had all the signs and the film confirmed it. Trimming this horse, and the questions I’m being asked, have really got me thinking about flares.

One of the things trimmers and farriers hear from clients and vets the most (next to “shorten the toe”) is “remove the flare”. I’ve found myself many times stuck between what a vet wants me to do and what I feel is best when it comes to flares. I have found it’s very important to understand why a flare is there. Is it simply from bad trimming? Is it because the horse is uncomfortable somewhere in his body and is shifting his weight off to one side of this foot? Is it because he’s crooked legged and his body needs that flare so that he literally doesn’t roll his ankle over? I saw a horse once so badly crooked that his flares were what we call *functional flares* and I declined to trim him without radiographs. Another person was willing to, took all the flare off and he then proceeded to walk on his fetlock. Flares are not always THE problem, they are often the symptom of a problem, and require some thinking before you cut them off.

Often I won’t remove a quarter flare until I have a heel and toe in the place I want them. Then removing that flare leaves other structures to support it as it grows back in correctly. I’m slow to remove flare on a foot that is extremely thin soled and thin walled; I’d rather focus on slowly bringing the foot into balance as we develop sole depth and a thicker wall. Sometimes I do remove a flare the first time I trim a horse but often – even if it looks straightforward – I ask the owner if they don’t mind if I wait until I see the horse again. I learn a lot about the horses way of going and feet by seeing what changes between trims.

In the case of flares being supportive of upper limb and body issues, if you cannot get a foot to balance up and it continues to push out in directions you wish it would not, you need to look higher up. I can often tell that a horse prefers a lead or won’t land on a front foot after a fence based on how he grows. Sometimes feet do crazy things because the horse is being ridden crooked or out of balance. A good example is if a horse is encouraged to push more than he can carry. The front feet of horses ridden this way always take a beating and you will struggle to keep them under the horses body. Riding the horse in better balance (pushing and carrying the same amount) will fix his feet. There are a lot of hoof problems caused by riding; high/low feet can be caused and/or exacerbated by not keeping a horses shoulders even and/or overbending the neck in the direction the horse is hollow. This throws the weight of the horse continually onto the opposite shoulder, no matter what direction the horse is going in.

So back to the older horse I’m trimming with the lateral flares. The flares appear to be the problem – but they are not. The medial walls being straight are the real issue. Slowly lowering those walls and only taking off the same amount of corresponding flare is bringing his feet into balance. This will take a very long time and will always require careful maintenance once the ideal has been achieved. In the meantime, his owner has people asking her why he has these flares and why haven’t they been cut off? I feel for her. She doesn’t completely understand why; she has seen the films and in theory gets it but probably would love to see her horses feet look “normal”. Standing her ground while we work on his feet is probably difficult. The good news is, he’s getting sounder and sounder.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about while driving around – flares. Most horses have an issue with flaring in one way or another… it’s the WHY they flare that matters, and dictates how we deal with it.