Sunday, April 26, 2020

First peer-reviewed journal article from the Royal Veterinary College's Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research explores impact of farriery on horse symmetry

farrier research horse gait analysis
A horse equipped with sensors on the points of its hips and withers was one of several tested by farrier research investigators at the UK's Royal Veterinary College. In this study, data was collected on weight-bearing and propulsion when tungsten-tipped "road" nails were added or removed in different feet. One researcher tested the effects on the front feet while the other tested the hind feet. (Photo courtesy of Peter Day)

A peer-reviewed study conducted at Great Britain's Royal Veterinary College (RVC) examines the effect of farriery interventions--in this case, studded tungsten-tipped "road" nails--and demonstrates their impact on horses’ movement symmetry, including weightbearing and propulsion. 

The article, which will be published in the July 2020 edition of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science and has been posted online, is the first farrier-authored peer-reviewed article based on a study conducted during the RVC's Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research (Grad Dip ELR) program. All students in the first UK cohort of the RVC program were professional farriers.

RVC Royal Veterinary College
Key findings from the study show that, while there are many different shoes on the market and various approaches to shoeing and trimming, it’s important to look at the effect of changes in horseshoeing on the symmetry of movement, rather than the other way round. This evidence-based research can then be combined with owner and trainer observations to help make more informed decisions.

The study, which used tungsten-tipped "road" nails, indicates that pelvic movement symmetry in horses trotting on "tarmac" (pavement) can be altered by the application of a road nail to the lateral heel of a hindlimb shoe.

Peter Day and Lee Collins, RVC Graduate Diploma Equine Locomtion Research
The study was based on a research project required for completion of the Royal Veterinary College's Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research. Co-authors Peter Day and Lee Collins tested both the effects on the front feet and hind feet; they divided the research and data collection between front and hind. 

Subtle asymmetry in pelvic movement can, for example, be quantified as the difference in displacement amplitude between left and right tuber coxae ("hip hike" difference). The changes in pelvic movement symmetry – observed as a function of applying a road nail – can be explained by increased weight bearing and propulsion in the hind limb shod with the road nail.

Using data from wireless inertial measurement units ("IMUs") fitted to the poll, withers, sacrum and left and right tuber coxae (point of the hip) of each horse, the study indicated that this form of data collection provides a valuable method of evaluating small movement changes of the horse in reaction to different shoeing protocols and shoe types. 

Movement symmetry is an important parameter. It influences equine longevity and performance, and can be measured irrespective of the arena, track or ground surface (firm or soft) where the horse is worked.

Thilo Pfau, Royal Veterinary College
Dr-Ing Thilo Pfau, Course Director of the RVC's Grad Dip in ELR, applying a sensor to a test horse used for gait analysis by the US cohort of the RVC course during a weekend residency workshop at the Penn Vet New Bolton Center. (Fran Jurga photo)

Two graduates of the course, Lee Collins, DipWCF of Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire and Peter Day, DipWCF, farrier at the RVC equine hospital, worked alongside academics at the RVC to conduct the research. The project is the culmination of the pair’s work on the course which offers professional farriers the chance to develop the skill-set necessary to produce original research and increase the evidence base behind farriery.

Peter Day, who has worked as a farrier at the RVC for over 20 years and studied for his Grad Dip ELR, said:

RVC news release“I have spent many years at the RVC providing equine foot care as well as teaching and supporting many research projects. With the arrival of the Grad Dip ELR, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be involved.

“Within the farriery industry, we talk a lot about the changes we can achieve with different shoeing and foot trimming protocols and most, if not all, is anecdotal and purely based on subjective visual observation.”

“As part of my diploma, I wanted to research something that was relevant to farriery and could be done outside the laboratory. My hope is that, having gained this qualification, I would like to undertake a master’s degree and will carry out further research to evaluate the use of traction devices and shoe designs for grip and propulsion. It is my intention to relate this work on upper body movement to the level of the hoof.”

Lee Collins, who was one of the attending farriers at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. In personal communication with The Hoof Blog, he reflected, "It's been a great journey and the RVC has set this course up superbly. A special thanks to Renate Weller and Amy Barstow and all the lecture and tuition tutors and yourself for all the help. I'm proud to say that. 

Hoof Blog farrier research"I hope to do more research in the future," he concluded, after describing the research that documented how much effect that one tiny adaptation to a horse nail in one foot could have on a horse.

Dr.-Ing. Thilo Pfau, Course Director of the RVC's Grad Dip in ELR, said:

“It is very exciting to see the first peer-reviewed publication that has arisen from work undertaken as part of our Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research. The publication describes the combined outcome of two research projects undertaken by students – Peter Day and Lee Collins – as part of their degree at the RVC.

“We always encourage our students to create research of publishable quality and to contribute to the much-needed evidence-base surrounding trimming, shoeing and farriery. Peter and Lee have done exactly this, and we congratulate them for this achievement and are looking forward to others following in their footsteps.”

The course allows farriers to develop such skills as referencing, communication, presentation and academic writing, with a key emphasis on teamwork and the value of a shared goal. More widely, the course aims to promote better communication between farriers and veterinary practitioners.

The full paper, The Effect of Tungsten Road Nails on Locomotor Biomechanics in Horses Moving on Tarmac Surface, is published in The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science and can be accessed here:

For more information about the RVC’s Grad Dip ELR, visit:

Addendum: More about the nails

Mustad road nails
Mustad's type of nail used by Day and
Collins in their research. Note the nail
head and the pin of tungsten.
Horse nails are designed to hold a horseshoe on a hoof, but the protruding nail heads obviously do affect traction in the moving horse. In the hind shoes of western reining horses, the nail heads are sunk below the surface to lessen traction as much as possible so the horse can slide. 

In the United Kingdom and some other countries, a more high-tech generation of old-fashioned "frost nails" is commonly used to give horses traction on slippery pavement, throughout the year.

However, the RVC research used the special nail as a tool to test small variations in equine symmetry. Day and Collins tested the effects of the nail on horse symmetry in three data-collection situations:

  1. Baseline condition without road nails.
  2. With road nail used in either one front or one hind shoe.
  3. With road nail used in both front and hind shoe in ipsilateral limbs. 

(Normally, road nails are applied to both limbs of a pair.)

They inserted the tungsten-tipped nails into the last nail hole of the lateral heel of horseshoes that had been worn for 5-6 weeks. The basic principle of tipped nails is that the soft steel of the shoe will wear from quickly than the tungsten in the nail tip, so the protuberance will be increasingly pronounced as the weeks go by. The authors discussed the effect of this as a lengthening of the limb by the fraction of an inch height (~2 mm) of the reinforced nail head, termed ‘orthotic lift’, or possibly the horse's reaction to increased traction.

(This information was added by Hoofcare Publishing and was not provided by the RVC.)

More about the course

The Graduate Diploma in Applied Equine Locomotor Research from the RVC offers professional farriers the chance to develop the skill-set necessary to produce original research and increase the evidence base behind farriery.

The course takes a minimum of two and a maximum of five years to complete. Some of the program is delivered during residential weekend sessions while some of the learning is self-directed, with continuous support from teaching staff.

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest-established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London. It is the top veterinary school in the UK and Europe and ranked as the world’s second highest veterinary school, behind the University of California at Davis in the United States, in the QS World University Rankings, 2020.

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