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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Impactful Hoof Research in New Zealand: Computer Model to Gauge Equine Limb Reaction to Change in Surface Condition

Researchers at New Zealand's Massey University are creating a dynamic computer model of the racehorse limb in motion. Their goal is to use it compute the effects of a change in surface on the limb.

Massey Equine Group’s Dr Bob Colborne, BSc(Hons), MHK, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy, and PhD student Alienor Bardin, a mechanical engineer, have funding from The New Zealand Equine Trust to attack this problem; the research will be the basis for Bardin's doctoral thesis, "Predicting limb responses to surface variations with a 3D musculoskeletal model".

Massey University equine limb model
The model, with the limb segments as determined from CT scans and the muscles placed with their exact origins and insertions. (Massey University image)

"With the advent of new software for musculoskeletal modeling, it is now possible to predict the amplitude and timing of this limb response from the surface properties," Colborne wrote in his grant abstract. 

"We propose to model the equine limbs using AnyBody® and to use our new gait analysis hardware and software to challenge the model to respond to variable inputs that are representative of real variations in racetrack surface integrity. The outcome will help to guide the assessment and maintenance of racetrack surfaces for the prevention of catastrophic injury and wastage."

The experimental work involves having the horses trot and canter along a runway in a sand arena. Embedded in the surface is a force platform; the horses move in front of six infrared cameras that record the 3D movement of the horse’s limb segments on the consistent surface.

toe off or late breakover
Animated model, with colored markers on the limb segments at the toe-off or sometimes called the late breakover phase of the stride as the hoof leaves the ground and enters the swing phase. (Massey University image)

This baseline data allows the limb segments to be modelled and animated and allows an estimation of the forces applied to the ligaments and tendons. It can then be used to test the strain in ligaments and tendons when the limb is presented with uneven or variable footing and ground reaction forces – in the case of this study, a softer, or harder than expected surface in the limb’s stance phase.  

This will allow the researchers to determine whether horses are capable of responding to a sudden change in ground condition during the perturbed stance phase, or if the response is not until the following stance phase, at which point the ground surface may have changed back.

force plate platform measures ground reaction force
Screen shot of the markers on the forelimb segments, with the ground reaction force 
projecting up from the force platform as the horse trots over it. (Massey University image)

Colborne explained how this research project differs from the norm:

“The physical properties of equestrian riding and racing surfaces have been associated with limb  injuries in horses, and most of the research in this area has focused on quantifying the surface’s ability to absorb the concussive landing and shear forces between the hoof and ground.

Bob Colborne
Dr. Bob Colborne is Senior 
Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy
at Massey University in
New Zealand.
“On soft ground, the surface absorbs the landing forces, and so the limb can afford to be relatively stiff. On a harder surface, the limb becomes more compliant so it can absorb the concussive impacts and reduce the impact shocks to the limb. 

"However, this compliance may come at a cost… if the distal joints are less supported by tendon tension, then disruptive perturbations caused by hard uneven ground may cause the hoof to twist on impact and result in ligament or joint damage.”

"The various equestrian industries in New Zealand make up about two per cent of the country’s GDP, and about a third of horses that start training and racing are retired prematurely due to injury," Colborne commented. "About three-quarters of these are musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries, therefore, cause a fair amount of wastage, both in terms of the welfare impact on the horse and secondly, to the income potential. The purpose of our work is to assess the effects of variable ground surfaces on the forces applied to the limb during gait.”

Top photo by Mark Smith cc-by-2.0.

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1 comment:

cheryl McCrindle said...

Very impressive research. As a rider, vet and researcher I am very excited by this resaerch.
All of us know that you can easility lame an Endurance horse if you dont balance them and slow to a walk as you change from deep sand to hard earth or a tar road. '
We also know that it is deep and superficial flexors that give way. But how and why is still a mystery
Prof CME McCrindle BVSc(Hons) PhD