Friday, November 29, 2013

Hoof Explorer: Discover and Interact with the Horse's Foot in Three Beautiful Dimensions, Online, and For Free

Hoof Explorer is a new interactive 3-D anatomy education tool that is in four languages and has almost infinite capacity for displaying the anatomy of the distal limb. And it's free!
It's official: 2013 is the year of 3-D hoof anatomy on the web. In late October, the third of three new websites from three countries went live, and now all you have to do is bookmark these resources and learn how to use them.

This month we say hello to “HoofExplorer”, a cooperative project between a group of medical illustrators and veterinary anatomy professionals all living and working in the tech-friendly city of Leipzig, Germany. Professor Christoph Mülling of the University of Leipzig’s Veterinary Anatomical Institute partnered with the talented private design firm Effigos AG to create this first project.

The new interactive 3-D anatomy site offers a myriad of ways to look inside the horse's foot--and from almost any angle. Individual structures can be eliminated or minimized to reveal what lies beneath, or isolated to show them in their entirety, such as the entire arterial blood supply below the fetlock. The model moves up and down, right and left, and in rotation.

Underneath all those nerves, arteries, veins, ligaments, and tendons is a basic model of the lower limb.

Anatomy at the University of Leipzig is nothing new; the school’s tradition of studying anatomy dates back to the 1700s. For decades, veterinary students learned anatomy by memorizing the anatomical diagrams of Professor William Ellenberger, who directed the anatomy studies at Leipzig in the early 20th century.
Hoof Explorer opens new doors to understanding the horse’s foot and it does it in a spectacular "high tech" way that does not require high tech skills.
In 1943, the Veterinary Anatomy Institute was bombed, and the anatomical collections suffered. After the war, the historians tell us that the anatomy students heated their laboratory by burning animal carcasses. For the next 40 years, Germany would be split into two nations, with Leipzig in the eastern sector, cut off from much of the prosperity and activity in the west.

Hoof Explorer allows the user to add and subtract structures and details and also to adjust their transparency. Then the user can rotate or turn the limb to view it from above or below or from the other side.
After the Berlin Wall came down in the 1980s and Germany was eventually reunited, the facilities at the vet school were improved and today, the Hoof Explorer is but one example of the innovation and technology being used to encourage people to study equine anatomy, as the university continues into the third century of specialization in the field.

Hoof Explorer’s launch last month coincided with the publication of the new edition of Atlas of Anatomy of the Horse, which is edited by Professor Mülling, along with Christiane Pfarrer, Sven Reese, Sabine Kölle, and Klaus-Dieter Budras. The new edition should be available in English soon.

The user can look at the bottom of the foot from below, or invert the model to look down on it from above.
Hoof Explorer’s goal was to create a virtual functional-anatomical 3D model of the horse's hoof as an innovative product launch. The team's tech access to 3-D modeling and printing created a super-realistic base, but the project also made great use of the illustrators’ talents to employ subtle color, shadow and tone to make a layered palette that you, the remote users, control. 
Layers can be increased or decreased in transparency, and the model itself moves left, right, up, down and into a rotational axis so the bottom of the foot can be viewed.

The Hoof Explorer model was the illustration for the Future Forward Poster Session announced at the recent International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot
As stated, this is the third web-based hoof anatomy imaging tool that has been made available in 2013. The first is Alex zur Linden’s comparative imaging web tools, which allow you to compare radiographs with videos of reconstructed 3-D CT scans. The second is the Online Veterinary Anatomy Museum’s 3-D hoof model, which moves in three dimensions like the Hoof Explorer, but offers linked references to provide the viewer with more in-depth information on the structures.

You will use the Hoof Explorer, Zur Linden and OVAM interactive website tools in different ways. Hoof Explorer requires some time to learn the tools and develop a visual sense of what your preferences on the model may be.

It may be helpful to download the new "Quick Start Manual".

From left to right: all structures visible; tendons muted; arteries, veins and nerves muted.

The Hoof Explorer offers only the ability to explore the hoof structures, but its elegant model and the ease of use that it offers will make it a powerful incentive for students to be able to learn structures and test themselves.

Hoof Explorer began with a 3-D model, which was later output on a 3-D printer.
The illustrators and designers of the Effigos team used 3-D modeling to create the base model on which the Hoof Explorer is based. The models later became real when output on a 3-D printer by Dick and Dick, makers of Dick hoof knives.
Professor Mülling 

Earlier this month, Professor Mülling presented the RCVS Share Jones Lecture at the British Cattle Veterinary Association Congress in Great Britain. He used 3-D imaging to compare the anatomy of cattle and horses and explain the need for research into the hooves of both species.

Hoofcare Publishing has been communicating with the illustration team since March in anticipation of the launch. Hoof Explorer provided an image that was used for the ID of the Future Forward Poster Session at the recent International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot.

A 3-D model created from Hoof Explorer was output by Dick and Dick, a German firm that manufactures hoof knives.
It may take a few sessions using Hoof Explorer to feel proficient at manipulating the model and “finding” the structures you want to see. For instance, the model contains detailed ligaments in the heel region and digital cushion, and shows their insertions. Experimenting with transparency and which other structures should be visible will help you figure out which settings works best to show you different types of structures. The “settings” options could be helped with more explanation of what the adjustments can do. Take the time to refer to the "Quick Start Manual" and the FAQ on the site.

The three basic tool sets are (left) structures; (top right) navigation; and (lower right) language. In this screen, the arteries and veins are labeled in Latin. The Hoof Explorer screens can be set to be read in German, English, Spanish or Latin.
You might consider Hoof Explorer's beta launch to be a “work in progress”. The group plans to offer high-resolution images from the model, and you’ll see a web shop and other enhancements appear soon. "The recent version of the Hoof Explorer represents a basic version of the tool," Effigos CMO Renate Holzer told The Hoof Blog." A number of further developments, in terms of additional content regarding the horse hoof and new features of the application are still under way or planned."

How accurate is the Hoof Explorer? Dr. Renate Weller of the Royal Veterinary College in Great Britain gave it a thumbs up: "It may not include every little detail, but it is a nicely illustrated tool to get a good overview understanding of the anatomy…and I find it rather user friendly, which is not always a given for such programs….and of course free."
Hoof Explorer's name tells only part of the story, since it provides full anatomy details of the entire distal limb, including the fetlock, shown here.

If you’re a teacher, you may find great ways to use Hoof Explorer with your students instead of or alongside anatomy charts from books or posters, cadaver models and plastinates. The Glass Horse is still a great tool for anyone to learn the anatomy with the help of narrative lectures integrated with 3-D videos and a user-controller model.

A final word: Effigos, Professor Mülling and the Hoof Explorer have been very generous to provide the first generation of their work for free. If you like it, if you use it, if it helps you in your studies or in your practice, send Effigos an email using the contact form on the site and both thank them and let them know how you use it.

A few years ago, we could only dream that a tool like this would be in our hands. To have it for free and on the web where we can use it anytime and anywhere, is truly a gift to students--and to horses, who need all of us to keep exploring the anatomy of their hooves as much and as often as we can.

© 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  
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