Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hoof Research Road Show Premieres This Weekend: Pollitt-Hampson Laminitis and Wild Horse Hooves Headline in Australia

by Fran Jurga | 7 May 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

Dr. Pollitt is known for his hoof-related research but part of his ability to get people to listen is his dazzling imagery. These images are from a series of CT scans of a foot. (©Chris Pollitt/AELRU image)

A couple of weeks ago, there was a street scene here in Boston that was wilder than anything since the Red Sox won the World Series. U2 was in the town. That's not so unusual in itself--the band might play Fenway Park or some other huge venue and sell it out for three or four nights of legendary concerts.

But this was different. They secretly booked a tiny concert hall in the suburb of Somerville.

I can remember, vaguely, that the Rolling Stones did something similar years ago. They wanted to play a small, intimate little theater where they could see the audience and judge how the music was received.

The same thing is going on this weekend in the southern end of Australia, where Dr. Chris Pollitt and his PhD candidate assistant Brian Hampson are quietly opening a new series of lectures on laminitis and hoof research. They'll be at the University of Melbourne Friday, and in Tasmania Sunday.

Dr. Pollitt's been lecturing about laminitis for years, but his work now has the added synergy of the brumby (wild horse) research component, which in turn has been energized by some out-of-the-box thinking about domestic vs wild horses that will have all of us scratching our heads when we finally hear these lectures.

Dr. Pollitt's model foot begins with a MIMICS image, created in collaboration with Dr Simon Collins, Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, UK

There were gasps of apprehension when Dr. Pollitt stepped down as professor at the University of Queensland vet school, but the research world was pleased. Freedom from teaching would surely allow him to dedicate full time to his directorship of the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit, the world's leading center for laminitis research at the University of Queensland.

To everyone's surprise, something else happened. In addition to charging forward on the laminitis front with a collaboration with the Laminitis Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, he started a second research center, the brumby unit, designed to study the hooves of Australian wild horses so that he could finally come to understand how a normal foot is supposed to function.

For years, Dr Pollitt has said that his hands have been tied in laminitis research because he is trying to understand a disease mechanism in the foot without being able to compare it to the normal functioning foot because we simply don't have a good model of the normal foot.

So Pollitt and his research associate, Brian Hampson, and most recently with sidekick American veterinarian Dr. Donald Walsh of Missouri, have been trekking through the outback of Australia studying wild horses in wet, dry, rocky, sandy and even flooded terrain. They watch, they film, they tag, they camp, they bring volunteer research assistants, and they've collect data--volumes of it, none of which has been shared except in tantalizing tidbits until now.

Donald Walsh DVM of Missouri, president of the Animal Health Foundation in Pacific, Missouri, has been conducting laminitis research in Australia but rode out on brumby research expeditions with Pollitt and Hampson. Walsh has been studying wild horse feet in the USA; the Animal Health Foundation helps fund Pollitt's laminitis research. (Brumby Research Unit Photo)

Marg Richardson, a research team member of the Australian Brumby Research Unit, is one of the hosts for the lecturers this weekend and has organized the warmup tour.

She is particularly excited to be introducing Brian Hampson in his first official speaking tour. At the Australian Brumby Research Unit, Hampson is undertaking world-leading research by capturing and sedating brumbies, attaching GPS collars, tracking their movement and then recording the relevant data for herd groups. This includes what they are eating, the condition of their hooves and how much they are moving.

One of the marketing projects launched by the Australian Brumby Research Unit is making freeze-dried brumby feet available to other researchers.

Maybe, it turns out, to understand a lot about hooves we need to learn to a little bit about behavior. “Never has the saying of ‘No Foot No Horse’ been more obvious, when you see how much these horses move,” Hampson says. “We have tracked the movement of domestic horses in a variety of settings from the racing environment (to) five-acre paddocks (and) up to 10,000 acre paddocks to see the variation of movement and it has been quite staggering. Old brood mares turned out in paddocks are moving more over a 24-hour period than our elite race horses."

Dr. Pollitt's presentations will center on using computed tomography imagery to share the inside view of what happens to the hoof in laminitis and other hoof diseases, compared to normal hooves. Digital images from the CT scans, arranged in 3-D will also allow manipulation of the model to observe whatever tissue is of interest. Models will be shown for laminitis, side bone and normal feet.

A world tour is planned, of course; Dr Pollitt plans to speak at the 5th International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot in West Palm Beach, Florida, to be held November 6-8. See you there.

It sounds like Brian Hampson is ready for a world tour of his own.

I am not positive that places are still open in the lectures, but you can inquire. Please email Marg Richardson or phone (in Australia) 64 272255 or 0419 572255. Click here for a press release and links to flyers from the Equine Veterinarians Australia web site.

To learn more, visit both The Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit and the Australian Brumby Research Unit.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to