Monday, March 03, 2008

Leading Hoof Researcher Doug Leach Has Died

Dr. Leach leading a discussion group at the 1987 Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium

The leading contributing researcher and author on the equine hoof of the 20th century died on February 10th in Lexington, Kentucky.

Douglas H. Leach PhD authored major studies on the basic mechanics and anatomy of the hoof in the 1980s, and went on to write about racetrack surfaces, exercise physiology, equine locomotion and a dozen aspects of the hoof's physiology. His name is probably the most often seen in reference lists and research citations.

Leach believed that basic studies of the normal hoof were tantamount to studying laminitis or the function of certain shoes, so his papers created a very valuable base on which more specific studies could be built.

A native of Canada, Leach received his Bachelor and Masters of Science degrees at the University of Guelph and Ontario Veterinary College, then proceeded to the University of Saskatchewan to complete his PhD on the equine hoof, which he earned in 1980.

While at Saskatoon, he co-authored papers with Dr. Hilary Clayton, who was conducting research at the Equine Locomotion Laboratory there and also spent a sabbatical year at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England, where he pursued studies of the function of the navicular bone with collaborating researchers Chris Colles and Sue Dyson there.

Leach was so intent on studying the hoof that he learned to read German so he could reference old shoeing and anatomy texts. He collaborated with researchers at Utrecht, Vienna and Uppsala and cheerfully corresponded with veterinarians and farriers from all over the world.

Dr. Leach played a major role in the First International Seminar on Navicular Disease in 1984 and authored a monograph summary of the papers presented there for Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. He was a key contributor to Hoofcare and Lameness in its early years.

In 1990, Leach was appointed to the John S. and Elizabeth A. Knight Professorship in Equine Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky. The professorship was expressly created to study causes and prevention of equine lameness.

Soon after moving to Kentucky with his wife, Jane, and their three sons, Dr. Leach became ill and was ultimately diagnosed with Pick's disease, a rare and incurable degenerative brain condition.

Reading Dr. Leach's papers today, it is hard to believe that most are 20 years old. The best collection of his papers is in the University of Sydney's 1990 proceedings book Equine Lameness and Foot Conditions; it contains six of Leach's last papers, and a seventh on racetrack surfaces co-authored with Dr. Bill Moyer.

Dr. Leach was 56 years old when he died. There is no way to estimate how different veterinary medicine and farriery might be if he had been able to continue his study of the foot. What he accomplished in ten short years is an impressive mass of work that will be studied and referenced for years and years to come, but which was only the beginning of a brilliant career cut tragically short.