Thursday, March 10, 2011

Theo Jansen's Anatomical Inspirations: Abstract Musing Can Help You Understand and Appreciate Hoof Design

Spring is in the air and a hoof blog editor's fancy turns to...kinetic sculpture. 
But you'll soon understand why.

To anyone who says we can't improve on the way that horses are trimmed or shod, or the way that lame and sick horses' legs are treated or cared for, I'd have to say we're just not trying hard enough. And the answer is not likely to come from tinkering with the designs and devices we already have in our hands.

Kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen builds 'strandbeests' out of PVC pipe and turns them out on the wild ranges of the sand on Dutch beaches. The goal is for his perpetual motion creations to become permanent, independent citizens of the sands.

Jansen's kite-like sculptures will trot along the beach on PVC legs and coffin joints.
That's right. He wants to turn them loose. It sounds like he's been watching some fantasy beer commercial where the wild horses run free forever.
You can't help but notice that his sculptures' legs and feet mimic the design of horse' limbs, right down to the single digit and breakover action of forward motion via a rotating distal joint.

Maybe Jansen's been reading the Hoof Blog and saw this extreme rocker rehab on a foundered foot from Loic Entwistle's photo files in Germany. I'm sorry I don't have more information about this photo. I don't even know if this is Loic's work. But the image has always intrigued me. It's a thought-provoker.

Think backwards for a minute. What if you could be Jensen and design a new hoof for the horse, one that would be easier to work on, to keep sound, to serve the horse on multiple surfaces, in multiple environments, under a rider's weights, in different sports?

What would your design parameters be for the lower limb and hoof? Where would you start--at the bottom? in the middle? Would you specify a model with replaceable (transplantable or implantable) parts?

There's no doubt that Nature designed an amazing structure that functions organically with perfection when everything's right. Humans just seem to muck it up, in one way or another. Bioengineering is on its way to being able to identify weak tissue structures; perhaps digital cushion implants will be possible soon, or coronary band grafting will allow rehab to be completed in six weeks instead of six months.

I suspect most of us would be happy to tinker with the parts to improve them, but we like the design just the way nature has given it to the horse, and to us to work on, to ponder, to study, to capitalize upon, or to admire.

Maybe we should invite Theo Jansen to watch our horses run on the racetrack. What we'd end up with in return might be a little different than what you''d see him sketch on a drawing board. Imagine a silky, kite-like kinetic sculpture floating around the infield of a dark racetrack at night, under its own perptual power, making eerie music like a chorus of call-to-the-post buglers playing a duet with every foghorn on the coast of Maine.

People would pay to see (and hear) something like that. I think they'd pay to see lots of things he does. Keep an eye on him, and his beests. I think he's trying to tell us something

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. 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
Follow the Hoof Blog on Twitter: @HoofcareJournal
Join the Hoofcare + Lameness Facebook Page