NO hoof, no horse is one of the most common phrases in the equestrian world. Correct shoeing is one of the best ways to help keep your horse sound and fit to compete. It is also an area within the industry which has huge capacity to adapt and use new technologies.
Hoof care has adapted to a variety of technology. So much techology has been used in the industry that it filled almost 10 pages in the Global HorseTech Market Report published last month. The report was collaboratively produced, Fran Jurga, founder of Hoofcare Publishing, wrote the section on hoof care.
Jurga detailed a number of new and existing forms of technology being used to help diagnose and treat soundness problems.
The farrier is now a part of a much greater team who help care for your horse. Farriers tend to join forces with veterinary surgeons and other professionals to assess the horse’s pre-shoeing gait or conduct a soundness evaluation.
Jurga listed the American company Equinosis and their product the Lameness Locator as the current leader in the field of custom-design for equine foot problems. The Lameness Locator uses accelerometry and gyroscope sensors attached to the poll, pelvis and right front pastern.
This is not the only system which can be used to evaluate soundness. Pressure-sensitive mats can be used to evaluate the horse’s weight bearing and stance. In-shoe systems are also available. In-shoe systems work by showing how and if a horse lands or bears weight differently on a lame limb or how change is effected with shoe design.
Video-based motion capture software systems, known as ‘mocap’, can also be used for lameness or comparative movement evaluation. Quintic Sports in the UK and Qualisys in Sweden both use ‘mocap’.
‘Mocap’ works by positioning sensors on the articulation points of crucial limb joints to measure stride length and joint flexion, or compare the action of the paired or diagonal limbs.
There are a number of existing technologies which have recently progressed. An example of such a technology is Metron imaging software. According to Jurga: “It is a system long used to measure angles and points on the hoof via digital photography and radiography.”
Recently Metron’s sister company has developed a new hardware ‘EponaCam’ component.
This component holds a smartphone for calibrated foot photos which can be used for case records or for calibrating with Metron.
Various forms of imaging technology are used to document and monitor cases. Imaging is very useful when it comes to diagnosing lameness. There are a range of different forms of imaging which can be used including simple digital radiographs to nuclear imaging or bone scanning, MRIs and CT scans.
Veterinary surgeons are very often involved in taking diagnostic images and aiding the process of diagnosing and treating lameness.
“Farriers need to know how documentation of an injury or misalignment in the bony column can affect how a horse stands, lands, or moves, and what can be tried to improve the horse’s comfort in motion,” explained Jurga.
Imaging is also frequently used by farriers as a means of keeping case records. One of the most common ways of keeping records is to record a video of a horse walking and trotting up before and after treatment.
Farriers now tend to use their own phones to keep video records of horses. This is helpful for their own record but it is also very important when it comes to sharing information, communicating and formulating a plan with veterinary surgeons, owners and riders.
Another practice which is becoming increasingly common is before and after digital radiography for accessing hoof balance.
MODELLING AND SCANNING
Modelling is another area where veterinary surgeons and farriers can work very closely together.
There are numerous reasons for modelling according to Jurga: “Creating a mould of a lower limb for a shoe design purpose, or taking multiple digital images and tracings of the foot before creating a special shoe, hoof cast or leg brace.”
The most technologically advanced means of modelling is morphology scanning. For this scanners are used to collect data points to determine the morphology of the hoof capsule. This is then translated into coordinates used in 3D printing which can be used to make braces, casts, shoes and moulds.
The variety of different materials which horseshoes can now be made out of is ever-expanding. There are an unlimited number different designs of horseshoe which come at several different cost points and in a range of sizes.
There is a lot more involved in choosing a shoe than just the material. Often horses who are suffering from some form of lameness require cushioning or a protective layer as well as the shoe. There are a range of protective materials to choose from and a number of factors worth considering, including the work the horse is expected to do, durability of the material and whether it needs to be harder or softer.
Shoes are generally made from low-carbon steel or aluminium. They can also be made from plastic although this tends to be a less popular option.
One of the main factors to consider when choosing a shoe is the weight of it.
“With horses that compete over long distances or work at high speeds, weight reduction in shoe material matters greatly, but not at the sacrifice of durability and traction,” Jurga noted.
The preferences of the horse owner does come into play when it comes to deciding the best shoe for their horse. Owners can be influenced by their own past experience of using different materials and by tradition. Resistance to use new materials can also come from trainers or riders who are reluctant to change the horse’s routine.
However, it is unfair to suggest that resistance to change only comes from the the owner, trainer or rider. Farriers can just as easily be reluctant to use new methods of materials. Jurga attributes some of this reluctance the use of an apprentice system.
In the report she claims the apprentice system shelters young trainee farriers from new technology because they are not exposed to them during their training.
Jurga notes how “changes in hoof care are best done in small increments,” she lists some of the success stories of new design of horseshoe and states that with each new design success the door is opened for another design idea.
Imprint Horseshoes are made in the UK and are an example of a unique material, called mouldable thermoplastic. These shoes are highly effective for custom fitting a variety of glue-on shoe designs for foal deformities, lameness therapy and sport horse performance.
The first research into adhesive shoes was in the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. Rob Sigafoos, the university farrier, went on to master adhesive shoes and repair hoof wall injuries with the use of synthetic polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) adhesive.
The reports states: “His line of ‘Sigafoos shoes’ (USA) is still an industry leader around the world, and still uses PMMA adhesive.”
Another development in adhesive technology to come out of America was from farrier Curtis Burns who went in search of finding an improvement in to how shoe racehorses. Burns created polyurethane shoes. The shoes were made by pour liquid onto moulds over a metal spine and then shaping the shoe from there.
The product is called the ‘Polyflex’ shoe and it has been worn by winners of the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown, as well as being exported worldwide. The produce has advanced and has focused on three-dimensional adhesive horseshoes incorporating a hoof wall cuff to help correct limb deformities in foals.
Adhesive technology is very much a global movement. Derek Poupard, farrier for Godolphin in Dubai, invented the ‘Quix Shoe’ which has since been renamed ‘Formahoof’ (UAE). This shoe is made by advanced scanning of the hoof and 3D printing.
A mould is fitted to the hoof, adhesive is injected in and when it dries the mould is removed and the adhesive remains and is shaped by the farrier to form the shoe. Formahoof offer five different mould configurations. Each configuration serves a unique purpose from treating foal deformities, intensive therapy for laminitis and providing extensions.
There have been a number of innovations surrounds removable shoes due to their increasing popularity. 3D is also becoming increasingly common in the creation of these new designs of horseshoes.
HOOF TECH FOR OWNERS
Jurga highlighted a German app which won a prize for innovation at the 2017 Equitana in Germany as one of the standout products. LTZ Hoof-App provides in depth hoof information for owners, it offers an online hoof check and keeps records of hoofcare and disease.
There are also wearable sensor apps available with monitor the horse’s vital signs, however, impact-capable sensors have not yet made it onto the commercial market and are only used in research. There are numerous commercial sensor-equipped products on the market which measure gait symmetry, stride length and track fitness.
There is no doubt that technology is driving innovation within hoof care. Jurga’s report accesses a number of way technology has been utilised and there is likely to continue and expand in the future as owners, farriers, veterinary surgeons, trainers and riders all become more open to trying new methods and products.