Thursday, December 08, 2016

Research: Farriery and Hoof Care Data Collected for Dressage, Showjumping Sport Horses in New Zealand

Not too long ago, a sport horse at an international show could trot by and you could tell what nation he was from by the way he was shod. Those days are gone, but there are still distinct differences in some parts of the world. We'd do well to document them, while we still can. And in at least one country, they have.

There was once a time when you could look at a foot and practically see the national flag. Those big, broad Dutch toe clips. The heel-to-heel fullered shoes of the British. The daring of an American rider to compete in a heart bar shoe. The way farriers of all nations displayed subtle national preferences in how and where they drew their clips or executed a nailing pattern or finished their heels or chose where to position their stud holes, or even how many stud holes they drilled.

Somewhere along the line, the world shrank as Mustad and Kerckhaert "European-type" branch-creased shoes spread across the globe for sport horse use. Perhaps the Olympics and World Equestrian Games helped speed their missions. The shoes embedded in the "Walk of Fame" on the Aachen, Germany showgrounds certainly prove their dominance on the top dressage, eventing and show jumping horses of all nations.

But it's still a big place when it comes to shoes and horsecare. Geography still counts. Maybe it's a very subtle difference, and maybe some of the factors influencing hoof care aren't even visible on the hoof. Some of the biggest differences are in horse lifestyle--do dressage horses live indoors or get some actual free-to-buck-and-roll turnout? Are they hacked out or do they get their exercise on a treadmill? Is the treadmill dry or underwater? How much time do show jumpers spend standing in a van or on a plane each month?

It may be very significant that by the time a horse now reaches the upper echelon of sport, it is almost required to move to Europe to compete on the big stage. For many, it is a trip home, since they were born and raised there. Once tucked in with Europe-based trainers, a horse is likely to adjust to the new lifestyle, new bedding, new turnout hours, and new shoes. Or, a case could be made that some bred-and-bought-in-Europe sport horses that compete under a nation's flag may never actually stand on that nation's soil.

And when infectious disease outbreaks occur at home, "you can't go home again" was never truer, if the horse needs to be sure it can leave again.

Within the United States, there are other factors that affect horses, without even crossing any borders: some horses are routinely hauled very long distances in order to compete domestically at the highest levels. Horses move seasonally, and may transfer from arid areas to wet pastures in order to enjoy proximity to summer and winter show circuits. With changes in location come changes in hay, water, and footing for training. Farriers may change with zip codes, and factors that affect the wear on shoes or the abrasion on the outer hoof wall, sole, frog and heel bulbs may change abruptly.

If you did a similar survey at HITS or Spruce Meadows or in your part of the world, would the findings be similar? Three-quarters of all the horses were hot fit, which also may affect hoof condition.

Sometimes a horse only needs to move across town to change almost every aspect of its care and influences on the health and condition of its feet.

But is anyone counting? It's just the fate of competition horses to adapt and jump or half-pass on. Are national preferences a thing of the past? We see trends in hoof shape or wall condition, but do we notice them too late to know where and when they started?

A new study from New Zealand this fall documents the facts and figures relevant to the foot care of top jumping and dressage horses in that country. Researchers from Massey University traveled to four large shows and were able to interview riders about care and document the feet of 89 competition horses. The shows included New Zealand’s National Dressage Championships and the country’s Horse of the Year Show.

The research, titled "Preliminary examination of farriery and hoof care practices, and owner reported injuries in sport horses in New Zealand" is in the November 2016 issue of Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

From the solar surface view measurements were made of the "Hoof W" (width of the hoof at its widest point), "Hoof L "(length of the solar ground bearing surface), "Frog L" (the distance from the buttress of heels / palmar hoof line to the point of frog), and "Heel W" (buttress of heel / palmar hoof line).

The paper is authored by Annette M. Dijkstra of Utrecht University in The Netherlands and four New Zealanders: Tjarda C. Sinnige, Chris W. Rogers, Erica K. Gee, and Charlotte F. Bolwell; all are affiliated with the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences of Massey University. Dr. Rogers assisted with preparing this article.

The paper begins with a statement that horses in New Zealand are managed differently from similar sport horses in Europe, based on the data collected for this study.

The New Zealand researchers wanted to get to the bottom of this fact, and record data for comparison with European horses, and move on to the next level of research: what effect management differences have on the type and frequency of injury, and the longevity of a horse's athletic career. Much more difficult to document is the influence of shoe styles and adaptations like studs.

The horses whose data were collected were mostly jumpers (75 percent); the remainder competed in dressage.

The typical horse in the study was nine years old, had been owned by the current owner for 28 months, and was competing in the medium to upper level divisions. At home, the horses trained in sand or sand-based arena footing.
Measurements were made of the dorsal hoof wall angle (DHA) and length (DHWL), coronary band length (CBL), dorsal coronary band height (DCBH), palmar coronary band height (PCBH), palmar heel angle (PHA) and heel length (HeL).

Of particular interest was the finding that one third of the riders reported that the horse they were riding had received specialty farrier care for a problem in the previous 12 months. Of these, 30 percent were in need of help for two or more foot-related problems, and 20 percent had required the involvement of a veterinarian or allied health professional. Training had been suspended for seven or more days because of lameness diagnosed by a veterinarian in 26 of the horses. The median time off had been 26 days.

Three-quarters of the horses had been hot-shod with the same type of shoe: a conventional fullered (British style) shoe. (See solar foot view photo above.)

"In relation to shoe type, I was surprised by the lack of variation in shoes – and the lack of bar shoes," researcher Chris Rogers, PhD told Hoofcare and Lameness. "I don’t know what this means in relation to sample and if New Zealand farriers are conservative – or feel that they can manage issues with the conventional shoe."

While they didn't opt for bar shoes, about ten percent of the horses wore pads or gel packing. Fewer than half were drilled and tapped for studs (and tended to be just two heel studs). Farriers made the decision how a horse should be shod for 51% of the horses, riders decided in 20% of the cases.

Hoof rings were noted on a third of the horses. A major difference in management from other countries was that 74% of the New Zealand sport horses spent 12 hours or more of each day turned out during competition season, although only 51% of dressage horses spent that much time out during the winter.

The horses’ feet were photographed and measured to determine what asymmetries were present and whether the front feet were identical or mismatched and, if mismatched, how great the disparity was between the two front feet.

It is important to organize a research project and arrange to interview riders and trainers. Otherwise, collecting data on shoes might be difficult--or dangerous.

Documentation of factors affecting soundness and sport horse performance is a frequent subject for Rogers' research at Massey. He recently studied the hoof morphology of Mongolian horses. At Massey, the research program is hoping to identify "what really is a functional foot for the athletic horse", according to Rogers, who keeps owner management factors on the table when discussing hoof morphology. One of his study titles asked the question so often pondered in show horse circles: "Can Managing the Horse as a Horse be a Proactive Response?"

Rogers has previously reviewed the positive effects on young horses allowed appropriate early life exercise to stimulate tissue maturation and help prevent injury later in life and other management practices' effects on sport horses in his extensive article, "Proactive Management of the Equine Athlete".

New Zealand is a small country, and far away from the epicenter of international competition. Yet New Zealand-bred and/or trained horses are exported to all parts of the eventing world. Many of New Zealand's top eventers live in England; it would be useful to know if they bring any native hoofcare preferences with them or adapt to British ways.

New Zealand's team farrier, Andrew Nickalls, moved to England to serve the team horses needs there, as well as to advance his own career. When a top New Zealand horse earned the Farriers Prize at the Badminton Horse Trials a few years ago, was it a sign that Andrew's work was recognized because of his native style or because he had adapted to the British style?

Now, in international competition, British-based New Zealand riders like Sir Mark Todd are less likely to ride horses shipped from home; in Rio, the team rode three British and Irish Sport horses and one German-bred warmblood. Andrew Nickalls was rewarded again last year with the Best Shod Horse at the  4* Burghley Horse Trials, but the shoes were an Irish Sport Horse, not a New Zealand-bred, although the rider was Kiwi.

The advantage of a small country like New Zealand is that it can be surveyed or, in this case, researchers can be confident that a survey population is highly representative of the elite sport horse population. This research will surely be helpful for horse management research and recommendations in New Zealand.

On a much larger scale, researchers from around the world can look to this study as a model for collecting valuable hoof care data on sport horses in their own regions or nations.

With data like this on file, future changes in hoof condition, type of footwear, or an increase in a hoof problem seen in sport horses can be weighed against the results previously published.

Maybe we should all be doing a study like this. We need to start somewhere, and New Zealand already has.

To learn more:

Preliminary examination of farriery and hoof care practices, and owner reported injuries in sport horses in New Zealand*,
Annette M. Dijkstra, Tjarda C. Sinnige, Chris W. Rogers, Erica K. Gee, Charlotte F. Bolwell,
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Volume 46, November 2016, Pages 82–88, ISSN 0737-0806,
*this link shows only an abstract of the paper; journal subscription or library access is required to read the full paper, hence this long article.

Proactive Management of the Equine Athlete**
Chris W. Rogers, Charlotte F. Bolwell and Erica K. Gee
Animals 2012, 2, 640-655;

**this article is available as an Open Access download

Thanks to Dr. Chris Rogers for his assistance with this article.

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