The flip-flop pad (Fig. 1 below) is a very useful product. It is great for the lower joints in racehorses, particularly “pinchy,” or sore knees.

The flip-flop pad (on left in Fig. 1), or a flapper pad (on right in Fig. 1), does have a few drawbacks, however. The first drawback is that many people consider such pads a traction liability on loose racetracks. This is a deal breaker in a few cases although I think they are compatible on most tracks with the correct shoe on them for that particular track.  

Another consideration is using flapper pads on big, flat-footed horses. With this type of foot flapper pads can add too much pressure on the bottom of the hoof in the center frog area. That added pressure can cause the hoof to widen over the life of the shoeing job. I have seen times when a reset of the same shoe is not possible because it no longer fits the hoof. When the hoof widens while the shoe does not, there is hoof wall deterioration.  Something I’ve seen in past years that has become much more prevalent recently is cutting out the center of the flip flop (Fig. 2 below).  This is being done for performance reasons, but I think has other benefits as well. 

Last fall, the Jimmy Takter and Tony Alagna stables were using quite a few cut-out flappers.  What I noticed is that while the pad is cut out to improve traction and remove weight, it also takes away pressure from the middle of the hoof sole. I believe doing this reduces the spread on those large, flat feet.

Another reason I think this practice has become more popular recently is that the pads have evolved. Fig. 1 shows this evolution.  The pad on the left side is the old flip-flop version. Notice the “eyes” are not cut out and the pad is at its full thickness directly behind the toe.

(Photos by the author) Fig. 1: The flip-flop pad (left) is being used less often in favor of the newer, firmer flapper pad (right)
Fig. 2: Cutting out the center of the flip-flop pad is now being done to increase traction and remove excess weight.

The pad on the right in Fig. 1 is the flapper version manufactured by the late Steve Bloom at Grand Circuit Products.  The center toe area is tapered to the thinnest portion of the pad and the “eyes” are open to help keep dirt from being trapped under the pad and creating too much sole pressure. The main reason the flapper works well with the center cut-out entirely is because it is firmer than the original flip-flop pad. I ran out the flapper pads in the size I needed recently, and when trying to use the older version I realized immediately it was too flimsy, so I reset the pad that was on before. I think farriers and trainers are realizing this and pushing the open-center concept because it has now become more doable. I saw some last fall that were cut out to extremes and still surprisingly intact. The firm version of the flapper is very difficult to cut.  I found a one-inch wood chisel does a nice job. Conny Svensson with the Takter stable gave me a good tip for using an electric rotary tool to open them.

However, you choose to do it, the benefits merit the effort. I think this opens the door to more uses of these pads. One idea I had is to try them on the rear feet to create an egg bar (therapeutic) effect on horses with hyper-flexion problems, such as running down and suspensory ligament issues. Too soon to make judgment on that theory but it is an idea to consider.

My thought is that the flapper pad is a better application with the cut-out done to it. Though I merely duplicated the shoeing for clients who already had them on this way, after doing it for 10 months or so, I am now a fan, and think other benefits are also there to be gained. One advantage is keeping the pad on horses for longer periods of time. Often with those flat feet the pad spreads the hooves out too much to continue using them constantly. Now I believe we can cut our way out of that situation and keep those types of hooves in a flapper pad for longer durations.

Still, if the only reason you have for opening the flapper pad is to reduce weight and gain traction, it is a worthy effort. In a world of photo-finish racing, cutting away any excess makes progress.

Veteran Standardbred farrier Steve Stanley of Lexington, Ky., authors a monthly column for Hoof Beats, the official harness racing publication of the U.S. Trotting Association. The American Farriers Journal Editorial Advisory Board member offers plenty of practical advice that will be of special interest regardless of the type of horses that you work with. Click here to read more from Steve Stanley's Hoof Beats series.