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Monday, June 02, 2008

Event Wrapup: UPenn Technical Horseshoeing Symposium at New Bolton Center

2008 speakers at the University of Pennsylvania's Technical Horseshoeing Conference: (left to right) Course organizer and UPenn resident farrier Pat Reilly; Dr. Jeff Thomason from University of Guelph, Canada; equine podiatrist Bryan Fraley DVM from Kentucky; hoof repair specialist Ian McKinlay of New Jersey.

Technical horseshoeing covered a lot of ground at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square on Saturday. From biomechanics to anatomy to podiatry and finally to 911-level hoof repair, speakers touched on many aspects of the scientific and practical bodies of information about the horse's hoof. Speakers zoomed in and out of the gray areas like the cars that would be passing me a few hours later on the way back to the Philadelphia airport.

The morning began with introductions and an overview of the new laminitis research center (tentatively called The Laminitis Institute) at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Jim Orsini, associate professor of surgery at New Bolton Center and director of the Institute, explained the exciting new concept to the audience. Click here to read more about the Institute.

Dr. Jeff Thomason lectured on the basics of foot biomechanics and the research undertaken in his laboratory at the University of Guelph in Canada. Included in his research was updated material on the finite element analysis modeling he has been working on, with beautiful graphic images. Later in the day, he spoke on the nuances of functional anatomy and the "design" of the horse's legs, with interesting images and challenges.

Thomason (shown at left, looking at a hoof capsule, in a University of Guelph photo) enlivened his presentations by standing on dinner plates (illustrating that weight alone won't fracture a fragile object), then smashing it with a hammer (showing the effect of force being much more destructive than mere weight). It's not easy keeping an audience awake during a biomechanics lecture, but smashing dinner plates with a rounding hammer definitely set a new standard.

Interestingly, Thomason's biomechanics research on vibrational properties of horseshoes found that unshod feet actually showed an increase in vibrationi over shod feet of about 25 percent, but he felt that it was statistically irrelevant, other than as an anecdote for those who use vibration as a criticism of horseshoes.

Conference leader Pat Reilly, who is now resident farrier at New Bolton Center, reviewed his use of high-tech measuring systems to question the probability factor of correcting what he feels are the universal malady of the horse's foot: underrun heels. According to a study quoted by Pat, as many as 60 percent of horses are affected by low-heel syndrome and he maintained that every foal he has seen has had underrun heels. He defines "underrun" at being as least five degrees lower than the toe angle, as set in stone by Tracy Turner DVM in published papers.

Reilly contends that underrun heels is an irreversible condition in many horses and a variation of normal hoof conformation.

Kentucky farrier Bryan Fraley DVM reviewed a deep file of cases related to puncture wounds, foot infections and cracks. He took the time to delve into the nuances of poulticing the foot, which many people skip right over. A number of his cases fell under the heading of "digital instability"--an apt moniker!

New Bolton Center has one of the best collections of antique horseshoes in the world. They were crafted in the 1800s by resident farrier and "professor of podology" Franz Enge, a German immigrant who was a disciple of the world-renowned Professor Lungwitz. At this end of the display are some modern braces and support devices for orthopedic cases.

On the second day, New Jersey farrier Bruce Daniels shared insights into the lovely antique shoes in the University's secret vault of farrier treasures and New Zealand native farrier Trevor Sutherland worked at the forge with attendees.

Man of the moment: Ian McKinlay (Pat Reilly photo)

Hoof repair specialist Ian McKinlay escaped from the mobs of press at Belmont Park, where he had been working on Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown, to drive down to Pennsylvania and speak at the University of Pennsylvania's Technical Horseshoeing Symposium on Saturday.

Yes, he did show Big Brown's week-old quarter crack, which is sutured (not patched over) in a way I had not seen before. Hopefully, I can post some photos soon.

McKinlay acknowledged that that farrier world "is trying to move forward" but gave evidence of progress on several fronts, such as the loosening of the Belmont track after Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, complained that it was too hard. "Times slowed down," McKinlay said, "and people were saying, 'Hey, nice cushion'!"

He asked the audience to help him list the disadvantages of glue on shoes and went on to explain more about Big Brown's abscesses and their consequences. He bemoaned the practice of leaving the bars lower than the walls, saying that this led to the prevalence of sore heels in racehorses.

This conference's goal, according to Pat Reilly is "to present scientific information relating to hoofcare"; "to describe techniques for managing hoof-related pathologies"; and to "create an atmosphere of open dialogue between New Bolton Center and the farrier/veterinarian community".

Those are all lofty and worthy goals. As with all such undertakings, the hardest step is the first one. By re-establishing this conference on the worldwide hoof science calendar, the University of Pennsylvania has the potential to add a valuable platter of substance to a table often overloaded with appetizers and desserts.

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