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Farrier interventions influence horse symmetry

Study demonstrates how different shoeing approaches may alter horse movement.

A peer-reviewed study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the U.K. examined the effect of farrier interventions -- road nails, in this case -- and demonstrated the impact on horse movement symmetry, including weight bearing and propulsion.

Key findings from the study, which was undertaken as part of RVC’s Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research, show that while there are many different shoes on the market and various approaches to shoeing and trimming, it’s important to look at the effect of changes in "shoeing" on the symmetry of movement, rather than the other way round, RVC said.

This evidence-based research can then be combined with owner and trainer observations to help make more informed decisions.

The study, which used tungsten road nails, indicated that pelvic movement symmetry in horses trotting on tarmac can be altered by the application of a road nail to the lateral heel of a hindlimb shoe, RVC said.

The researchers explained that subtle asymmetry in pelvic movement can be quantified as the difference in displacement amplitude between the left and right tuber coxae (hip hike difference), and the changes in pelvic movement symmetry — observed as a function of applying a road nail — can be explained by increased weight bearing and propulsion in the hind limb with the road nail.

Using wireless inertial measurement units, which were fitted to the poll, withers, sacrum and left and right tuber coxae of each horse, the results indicate that this form of data collection provides a valuable method of evaluating small movement changes of the horse in reaction to different shoeing protocols and shoe types, RVC said.

Movement symmetry is an important parameter influencing longevity and performance and can be measured irrespective of the surface (firm or soft) the horse is worked on, the announcement said.

Lee Collins and Peter Day, graduates of the course, worked alongside academics at RVC to conduct the research. The project was the culmination of the pair’s work on the course, which offers professional farriers the chance to develop the skill set necessary to produce original research and increase the evidence base behind farriery.

“Within the farriery industry, we talk a lot about the changes we can achieve with different shoeing and foot trimming protocols, and most, if not all, is anecdotal and purely based on subjective visual observation,” Day, who has worked as a farrier at RVC for more than 20 years, said. “As part of my diploma, I wanted to research something that was relevant to farriery and could be done outside the laboratory. My hope is that, having gained this qualification, I would like to undertake a master’s degree and will carry out further research to evaluate the use of traction devices and shoe designs for grip and propulsion. It is my intention to relate this work on upper-body movement to the level of the hoof.”

The full paper, "The Effect of Tungsten Road Nails on Locomotor Biomechanics in Horses Moving on Tarmac Surface," was published in The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

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