Hoof Wall Integrity

A horse with problematic front feet needs special attention paid to hoof wall separation.

A horse with problematic front feet needs special attention paid to hoof wall separation.


I have a huge Quarter Horse gelding with small front feet. He had shoes on when I bought him, but had numerous cracks and two quarter cracks on each front. He can not keep a shoe on because of flare and separation of hoof wall. I pulled his shoes and have been on a two-year rehabilitation program. The quarter cracks grew out and he now has better looking hooves. He was very sore when shoes were pulled but now is able to walk around on grass, dirt, or pavement and even small limestone. I use hoof boots when I ride, just on the front. I have been very pleased with them. I am sure that using shoes caused an excessive force on his front feet causing them to break out in quarter cracks. I think some horses can wear shoes and some can’t. This horse can’t and barefoot was the only option I had. He is better off and hopefully I can keep him sound. I soak him in White Lightening solution every now and then, to keep out any bacteria due to any wall separation. Seems to work for him. Hopefully the flare will eventually grow out with proper trimming. I get him trimmed every six weeks and in between trims, I rasp out the rough edges.


It sounds as if you’ve worked hard and gotten some positive results with your gelding’s hooves.  Maintaining hoof capsule integrity is a primary concern, and it’s vitally important when you have a large-framed, heavy horse on small, “tea-cup” hooves.

By eliminating the cracks, you’ve made major progress in restoring strength and support to the hoof capsule.  But it doesn’t sound as if the problems are completely resolved, as the continued flaring and hoof wall separation indicate that the hoof capsule is still compromised and failing to function optimally.  No matter where hoof wall separations and flares evidence, they’re always an indication that laminar connections within the hoof capsule have broken down, and they do warrant some “separation anxiety.”

Basically, for the hoof wall to separate, there has to be a tearing or shearing of the connections between the sensitive and insensitive tissues.  Ultimately, the area of separation shows us where the insensitive, external hoof wall is tearing away from the sensitive, internal structure of the coffin bone.

While you’ve had success with maintaining your horse barefoot, it’s potentially a factor in the continued problems you’re experiencing with the separations.  Once a separation starts, it tends to pack and fill with dirt, sand, fecal matter, and other ick.  Then, as the horse “loads” or bears weight on the hoof, the ick tends to act as a wedge, exerting mechanical pressure on the wall, causing more tearing and subsequently enlarging the separation.  As the separation enlarges, it also becomes a moisture pocket where bacteria and fungi breed and proliferate.  Although good maintenance programs, such as yours, can reduce the chances of abscesses and major infection, the moisture and bacterial activity still manage to weaken the hoof wall and encourage further tearing, shearing, and separation.

The real problem with all of these mechanical issues is that the hoof is plastic, not elastic.  It’s flexible enough to distort and remodel its shape, but it doesn’t automatically snap back and regain its original shape.  So professional farriers have to utilize their knowledge of the internal structures in order to remodel the hoof capsule.  In effect, the farrier is the elastic—working to recover the distortion and regain an optimal shape.

When the farrier deals with significant flares and separations, his or her most common and effective approach is to “unload” the affected area.  Basically, this means that—working from the ground surface—the farrier removes the distorted and dysfunctional areas of the hoof wall.  By removing this area, the farrier can stop the cycle of the new growth following the old (distorted) growth.  Depending upon the severity of the problem and the amount of hoof wall removed, the hoof capsule will often need to be supported through an appliance (shoe) or an application (acrylic or urethane) that artificially and temporarily replaces the removed area.

Last, but definitely not least, external distortions often mirror and mimic internal distortions.  Subsequently, if you don’t already have an equine veterinarian working with your professional farrier on this, it would be a good time to expand the team effort.  A set of radiographs could really help to determine exactly what issues you’re dealing with.

— Danvers Child, Certified Journeyman Farrier (CJF) and editor of Professional Farrier magazine for the American Farrier’s Association, an AQHA Educational Alliance Partner.

7 thoughts on “Hoof Wall Integrity”

  1. Often it seems that horses that show chronic wall separation and flare in spite of proper trimming need adjustments to their diet. Is it possible your horse is having minor episodes of laminitis that don’t cause obvious lameness, but cause enough inflammation in the hoof resulting in wall separation? You say you have a huge QH. Is it possible he’s bigger than he should be? Maybe a reduction in feed is the answer? Just a suggestion.

  2. And this article brings me to ask, why are we making our Quarter Horses with huge bodies and tiny feet? What caused this trend, and is it going to swing back to better, bigger feet and legs? Look at old photos of King, Poco Bueno, etc. That’s the way the legs and feet should be, strong and with substance, built to last. I understand wanting a bigger, taller QH for most folks, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far and caused us to lose sight of how important leg and foot structure is. Seems like the modern QH halter horse is all body and height, with tiny heads, skinny legs and feet that cannot support the massive bodies. Im I wrong?

  3. Mary Lynne- You are exactly right. Phrased another way, breeders stop looking at horses when they get down to the knees and hocks- everything below that seems inconsequential. That makes the job of the farrier even harder, as Danvers pointed out. I shoe at a barn with my mentor, and the trainer has a lot of horses with 000 feet on a 1000# frame. I’d like to see a size 1 or even a 2 on the horse. It’s just ridiculous.

    Howard- Usually, flares, especially in the quarters, are a result of long trim schedules or uneven loading of the hoof capsule. Look at a horse that flares on the lateral side. Chances are, his leg point out that way, i.e. his leg isnt straight.

  4. This is a question for Danvers Child …
    BACKGROUND: My Haflinger had been turned out in a paddock where the barn owners decided to dumpe large limestone gravel (some were the size of a woman’s fist) in front of the gates. They thought this would keep the horses from standing in that area and causing mud puddles. The barn owners also didn’t have water in this paddock and my horses were out there from 4-6 hours every day- weather permitting.
    Now my Haflinger’s back feet are blown out – he is missing about 1.5″ all the way around his back hooves. My farrier had to trim off all the chips and peeled back hoof splits to keep the hooves from further damage. But the hooves continue to split, peel back and chip off. I have him on hoof supplements for the past month, I’m brushing on hoof treatment product a couple times a week, and I just tonight, I put his back feet in Davis Rubber Boots.
    My horses are barefoot and were trimmed regularly every 8 weeks and did great.
    I’m not seeing any improvement in his feet and I’m very concerned that the problem was too far advanced before I found out just why his feet fell apart.
    Is there anything else I can do? Would you need pictures of the damaged areas of his hooves? I am very concerned about his likelyhood of surviving this fiasco. Please help.
    Thank you for your time.

  5. Jeannie, let me share my nightmare/solution…I switched farriers X2 before #3, whom I kept for almost a decade (unfortunately). He improved upon the mess of others at 1st, but very, very slowly, I started seeing new issues with both horses’ feet… when you look at them everyday, you don’t always see things happening until they are very obvious. I have a must-be-shod 11 yr TB and a bare-since birth 19 yr 1/2 QH/Arab 19 yr. Both horses had decent size, quality feet that gradually atarted showing separation at the white line, changed shape a bit, started getting continually thrushy (you can eat off of my stall floors), the TB started serious, major cracking, nails down on both fronts, finally breaking out completely at the qtrs., toe to heel; then it started happening on her hinds, despite excellent diet, supplements, dressings, good footing, etc. Nails-ons were not possible, and she cannot go bare (I’ve tried). I went to glue-ons for 9 mos., all 4 ft, for the TB ($$$), but then had on-going problems there too – shoes spreading out after only 3-4 wks, that then began collasping the rear heels. The final straw was when 1/2 Arab with feet like iron, also with compromised/dropped ankles behind from bad suspensory injuries at 4, and treated 4x in 1 yr for Lyme, started acting laminitic in front. I was getting very concerned and getting nowhere trying to talk with my farrier (Aren’t the toes too long? He’s not usually this sensitive, what’s up? Why are the frogs now deteriorating? Shouldn’t something be done to stop this white line separation? These feet don’t look ‘right’, etc.). Completely frustrated, I finally decided to go with someone who was recommended as a knowledgeable expert, had a heart to heart consultation with my vet, w/front feet radiographed on both horses. The 1/2 Arab turned out to be 10 and 12 degrees rotated in the fronts (how he never abscessed no one knows!), then the TB went dead lame in one front, pulses pounding, and one hind abscessed at the hairline in the heel (the foot he had made much narrow and smaller over time) while I went on vacation across teh country and #3 decided to switch the TB into nail-ons when she was to get glue-ons! With radiographs in hand, the expert came. He took one look at the 1/2 Arab and said this horse is either in active laminitis or has had it (what I saw earlier), the toes are way too long, the whole foot (both) had migrated forward and were unbalanced. The TB had similar issues but thankfully I stopped the damage #3 farrier was doing in time. Today, barely 2 months later, properly trimmed and balanced, we are carefully rehabilitating the 1/2 Arab, currently in special boots in front and walking soundly w/normal pulses, and the TB is in Sz 2 shoes, not Sz 1 all around, glue-ons in front that stay on and in place (harder alloy aluminum, doesn’t spread at heels), toes trimmed way back, and carefully and completely balanced. I share this because had I gone with my gut and changed farriers sooner to a proven expert (consulted with Barbaro’s disaster), I wouldn’t be in the situation I now find myself… that may be your answer, it was for me.

  6. The AQHA website shows a picture of the “ideal” conformation with a beautiful head, neck, and body with thin bone and dinky feet from the knees and the hocks on down. Time to change that picture!

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