Thursday, April 25, 2013

Adventures in Hoof Science: British Farriers Collect Data on Heart Bar and Lateral Extension Shoes at Royal Veterinary College's Structure and Motion Laboratory

Story and photos provided by Carl Bettison, AWCF (Hons)

British farriers spent a day at the Royal Veterinary College's Structure and Motion Laboratory last week; they watched while Jim Blurton shod two horses with bar shoes. Equigait wireless gait analysis technology was paired with high speed video and a force plate to monitor changes with the addition of the shoes. (Gill Harris photo)
A small group of farriers with a keen shared interest in equine biomechanics and a thirst to understand the science behind horseshoeing had a unique opportunity to witness an afternoon’s research conducted in the Royal Veterinary College’s Structure and Motion Laboratory in England last week. The RVC’s Renate Weller DrMedVet, PhD, MRCVS, FHEA led the event, along with her team, which represents a range of scientific disciplines.

Dr. Renate Weller
Although bar shoes are commonly prescribed by vets and farriers for treating a wide range of lamenesses and are regarded as an important procedure in helping the horse return to soundness, do we really understand how and why they work?

The day was organized by British farrier supply firm Stromsholm Ltd and began with Chris Pardoe PhD, BSc, AWCF giving a short lecture about the history and use of bar shoes. Chris said it was interesting to know that although much research has been done on navicular problems, laminitis, etc., he could find no apparent research on exactly why or how bar shoes benefit the horse. Chris also explained that bar shoes were used much more in the days when horses were primarily used for work.

Renate Weller, DrMedVet, PhD, MRCVS, FHEA is Senior Lecturer in Veterinary diagnostic Imaging at the RVC; she hosted the farriers along with Chris Pardoe, a long time farrier who has been conducting research at the RVC and recently earned his PhD.
Renate then explained that research is a slow process. The horse often needs to walk or trot over a force plate a dozen times in order to get one usable reading, then the process has to be repeated over and over again until enough high-quality data has been recorded. The large amount of data collected then has to be studied and interpreted. The afternoon was only going to be a window, through which to see the process taking place and what is involved at the Structure and Motion Laboratory.

Two horses were selected; both appeared unlevel.

Jim Blurton's background as a former world champion farrier competitor, a horseshoe manufacturer and a sport horse farrier made his a natural choice to provide the shoeing for the test horses.

Farrier and shoe manufacturer James (Jim) Blurton, AWCF, who has a special interest in bar shoes and many years’ experience in shoeing performance horses, had the responsibility of shoeing the horses.

Each horse was fitted with the Equigait wireless gait analysis sensor system and walked, then trotted, over a force plate used in the RVC's gait analysis specialty service. High-speed cameras were placed in front of and at the side of the horse, so farriers could see the impact of the hoof on the ground in slow motion.

One thing the farriers learned is how tedious the activity of data collection can be: the horse has to land in the right place and it can take many tries before a keeper data set is collected.
The informal surroundings and friendly atmosphere ensured constant debate about how the hoof should function in order to optimize performance.

Longstanding beliefs on basic horseshoeing guidelines were challenged, including the need for level footfall. Perhaps the work of the farrier should not be judged by looking at the hoof static on the ground, but in the horse’s gait and performance, which the human eye often fails to see. This is perhaps why we need science, to better inform the farrier about the gait of the horse so the farrier can both trim the hoof accordingly and select the style and the positioning of the shoe. Could this be the best way to improve the performance of the horses?

Jim decided to shoe both horses in his JB-brand heart bars. He shod the smaller horse (Cally) with size No3x0, without side clips, as the hoof was quite upright and he did not want to restrict the hoof’s flexibility. As the sole was very concave but also soft, he applied Vettec Equi Pak to create both protection in front of the point of frog and support to the frog and bars. Jim applied the Equi Pak with a concave finish so that the sole was still allowed to flex.

A Play-Doh dam kept the frog area
Equi Pak in the frog. Jim then also
pumped the clear material into the
foot to cover the entire sole.
The larger horse (Thomas) had JB Heart Bars size No3 fitted. After nailing on the shoes, the near fore frog was not in contact with the heart bar, so Jim used Play-Doh modeling compound to create a dam around the frog; he then pumped in Vettec Equi Pak under the heart bar to create contact.

Many farriers watching also that Thomas would benefit from lateral extension hind shoes, so while Jim was working on Cally, his third-year apprentice, James Gant, made a pair of lateral extensions which were duly fitted. This affected the data which was collected while only having front heart bars fitted, reminding everybody that the horse has four feet!

Experienced farriers know that after fitting bar shoes it can take a few days or even weeks for horses to improve-- a luxury they didn’t have on the day.

The finished bar shoe: It looks like a hind foot but this is actually on the front foot of one of the test horses, which was a small-footed American import that wore a size 000.
Not enough accurate data was collected for any meaningful statistics to be published, but all the farriers had a better understanding of how the different equipment works in order to generate data that shows different force loading on different limbs, stride length, and foot fall (loading).

The event was held with the cooperation and support of Stromsholm Ltd., Vettec, Jim Blurton, Life Data Labs and Kerckhaert.

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