Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kentucky Derby Hoof Tech: Calculated Hoof Repair for Heel-Quarter Blow-Outs in Racehorses

Last week we showed you Ian McKinlay's video clip of a quarter crack, and tried to paraphrase Ian's description of the various types of "blowouts" that can fracture a racehorse's hoof wall, and showed a foot with a wall separation ready for repair. That photo showed a foot that might look something like what Kentucky Derby favorite Big Brown's feet looked like when his injuries occurred. They have now been repaired and the horse's trainer, Richard Dutrow, commented to the press today that he is pleased with the condition of his horse's feet and the recovery that has been made possible by a combination of hoof repair and cushioning of the injured area, coupled with glued on "gasket" shoes.

The shoe design and rationale has already been explained in previous posts but this serious of photos will show you a horse that is NOT BIG BROWN, but that received a similar shoeing solution. Ian McKinlay has provided these additional photos to give people a broader view of how streamlined and non-intrusive the repair process is, compared to the older ways of bar shoes and laced and layered patches.

A blog comment last week brought up a good question, regarding his ignornance that Pyro had won his two previous starts wearing glued-on shoes. A few years ago this might have been a handicap, but that racing observer wondered if shoes shouldn't be disclosed to the betting public because high-tech enhancements might offer an advantage to a horse, similar to the new Speedo "skin suits" with ultrasonic welds instead of seams, which will be used in the 2008 Olympic swimming competitions. That is, unless they are ruled to be performance-enhancing equipment.

The shoe (race plate) package ready for application. The heels are fully cushioned where the wall has been removed. The copper "clips" are not clips in the sense of those used on steel shoes; they are providing more surface area for the adhesive. They are just thin tab-like strips of copper. Remember that this shoe will be glued on, there is no issue with nails having to penetrate the rubber.

The heel is rebuilt and the shoe is on. The temptation is probably to incorporate the heel repair into the shoe but the two have to maintain separate entities so that the shoe can be removed. The artificial heel will be trimmed as it grows down. Only the copper tab crosses the frontier between the shoe and the real/artificial wall. Remember that the padding under the heel is the full width of the shoe only in the heel area, which is why you see the black line fill with adhesive in the quarter.

I am not sure whether or not this horse had blowouts (wall separations) in both heels, possibly caused by subsolar abscesses, hard racetracks, or gait changes, so both heel walls were trimmed out and replaced with artificial wall. It's also possible that the the adhesive and heel cushion were used on both heels to provide symmetrical heel architecture and encourage normal gaits and stride characteristics.

The finished feet. This horse will have the benefit of pain relief from the cushioning and the realigned support of the artificial heel wall to stabilize weightbearing over the entire foot (or where the foot would be). This procedure hopefully encourages normal circulation and a normal gait pattern. The finished job does not look very different from a patch for a quarter crack or a wall rebuild for a thin-walled horse so you can see why a trainer would just refer to the injury as a "quarter crack".

Thanks to Ian McKinlay for sharing this technique, and for interrupting his work to take these photos. Racetrack repair technology is continuing to evolve as more horses are being shod and supported as their needs dictate. Ian is a career specialist in quarter crack repair and is bringing new ideas and materials to the racetrack to help horses stay in training. He is very generous to share information from the racetrack with the world through this blog.

Links to previous stories from last week on Kentucky Derby hopefuls' feet:
Click here for quarter crack explanation and Ian McKinlay's video
Click here for glue shoes on Kentucky Derby favorites and Ian McKinlay's explanation of heel separation
Click here for interview with Big Brown trainer Richard Dutrow about the horse's feet.


Pat said...

This is an interesting article. It appears to me that the heel bulbs have been surgically removed. The heels seem fairly contracted, but without the bulbs,...the back of the hoof just looks weird. If the hoof needs this drastic of a repair, we need to rethink what we're doing to cause the problem.
Dr Robert Bowker dictates that a healthy back-hoof is the most important aspect of a healthy hoof, yet the back part of this hoof has been nearly completely replaced by artificial material. Are partial or even full prosthetic devices legal in the racing industry?
Horses don't need their hooves anymore because humans can just replace them with plastic? How can that be right?

Anonymous said...

I am agreeing with Pat.

Are thee horses being raced with the issues that require rebuilding? And glue on shoes? I hope not.

Anonymous said...

Everyone seems a bit too eager to judge this technique. It seems to be no more of a "prosthetic" than the old lace and patch. If the technique is un-aesthetic, but effective, then let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. If you think that race horses with inherently bad feet should not be allowed to succeed and procreate then you might be right, but I suggest, a little out of touch with reality. It seems that the practitioner is onto something good, and the proof is in the putting.