Expert Exchange

Martha Olivo on Hoof Flaring

Q: Why do hooves flare and what can I do about them?
A: Flares are a distortion of the hoof wall caused by unnatural forces on the hoof capsule. Flares are caused by long (not necessarily high) heels accompanied by high, laid-over bars. Sometimes flaring is caused by a medial-lateral imbalance and are frequently accompanied by white line separation. It's important to know that flares can develop into quarter cracks if the problem is not corrected.

To prevent flares, you will first need to determine the correct heel height for your horse. Remove the excess bar so that it is passive to the heel, and terminates at the mid-point of the frog. Optimum circulation results when the forward 2/3 of the frog is passive to the wall. The contoured sole, except in the toe region, should also be passive to the wall. Remember to scoop the quarters.

To rid the wall of existing flares, perform the same trim as outlined above and be sure to keep the bars in check every two days! Heel height and bar definition are very important in a bad flaring situation. A passively supportive sole heel within the wall/bar triangle is desirable. Thin the flared wall section by rasping or nipping to 1/2 of its thickness to the white line.

Until next time … Ride more, trim less!

About Martha Olivo:
Martha Olivo was a farrier for 25 years before hanging up her hammer and committing herself to the Whole Horse Trim™. As an accomplished hoof care clinician, she currently tours the U.S. holding clinics to help horse owners, farriers and veterinarians to understand the benefits of High Performance Barefootedness. Martha is a Strasser Certified Hoofcare Specialist and founder of United Horsemanship, a membership organization dedicated to the application of natural equine care.

Dr. Robert Cook on Frothy Salivation

Q: Why do horses produce frothy saliva when they are being ridden? I have recently read that it is considered a virtue in the dressage horse.

A: The drooling of frothy saliva at exercise is neither a virtue nor a vice; it is the physiological result of placing one or more foreign bodies (bits) in the mouth. Salivating is only one of a number of reflex responses that can be expected from such a step. The bit also breaks the otherwise airtight seal of the lips, admitting air into the oral cavity and, in the absence of food, allows the foamy saliva to escape. Apart from reflex salivation, other responses include movement of the lips, jaw, and tongue. Often the bit results in a mouth that is frankly open and a horse that makes occasional swallowing movements. All of these are normal digestive system responses. They are entirely appropriate in a horse that is feeding.

But if a horse is exercising, none of these responses are appropriate. For the deep breathing of exercise, an entirely opposite set of responses is required. The mouth should be shut and the lips sealed. There should be no air in the mouth and the mouth should be relatively dry, not wet. The jaw and tongue should be stationary in order that there is no interference with the airway from constant agitation of the soft palate and larynx. Finally, with regard to something that bit pressure is regrettably good at bringing about, the poll should not be strongly flexed, a position that further interferes with breathing.

From the above it can be seen that the bit method of control sets up a fundamental conflict. It confuses the exercising horse neurologically by stimulating inappropriate digestive system reflexes, and it seriously impairs breathing. Like ourselves, horses can either eat or exercise. They have not evolved to be capable of doing both at the same time. Drooling is an outward and visible sign that digestive system reflexes have been initiated. It is an inappropriate activity in an exercising horse. But the horse should not be blamed, for the fault lies with the method of control.

Fortunately, a new bitless bridle permits improved control and allows dressage horses to perform better, without having to contend with the many handicaps of a bit. Being a painless method, it cures many a horse that suffers from bit-induced trigeminal neuralgia (the headshaking syndrome). As it is also compatible with the physiology of exercise and does not interfere with respiration, it represents a significant advance in equitation and the welfare of the horse. The only bar to the adoption of the bitless bridle in dressage competitions is the current FEI regulation that makes use of a bit obligatory. As no bit is required for the more hazardous cross-country or show jumping disciplines, the rationale for imposing a bit on a dressage horse is difficult to understand. It is to be hoped that the FEI will soon consider revising the dressage regulations and correct this anomaly.

There will be those who regard my recommendation of a bitless bridle for dressage as being the height of heresy. Understanding that this suggestion will bring unrest to many who believe that use of a double bridle is an indispensable part of dressage, and that its use is sanctioned by the highest authorities, I call as witness William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle. In his 1743 classic on "The New Method of Dressing Horses" he writes, "…it is not a piece of iron can make a horse knowing, for if it were, the bitt-makers would be the best horsemen: no, it is the art of appropriate lessons … and not trusting to an ignorant piece of iron called a bitt; for I will undertake to make a perfect horse with a cavesson without a bitt, better than any man shall with his bitt without a cavesson; so highly is the cavesson, when rightly used, to be esteemed. I dressed a barb at Antwerp with a cavesson without a bitt, and he went perfectly well; and that is the true art, and not the ignorance and folly of a strange-figured bitt."

About Dr. Cook:
Robert Cook, FRCVS, PhD, Professor of Surgery Emeritus of Tufts University, Massachusetts, is a veterinarian who, for most of his career, has been a faculty member of clinical departments at schools of veterinary medicine in the UK and USA. He is the author of the book for horsemen, Specifications for Speed in the Racehorse: The Airflow Factors and of the videotape Selecting Racehorses Using the Airflow Factors. His research has been focused on diseases of the horse's mouth, ear, nose and throat, with a special interest in unsoundness of wind and the cause of bleeding in racehorses.