Friday, September 02, 2022

Swedish barefoot vs shod showjumper comparative research preview at FEI World Championships

Swedish barefoot vs shod showjumper research

The world watched Swedish barefoot show jumpers sweep the individual and team gold medals at the FEI World Championships in August in Herning, Denmark. At the same event, the media received a preview of a comprehensive hoof science study that hopes to explain why they won. 

The Hoof Blog offers this exclusive report.

For almost a year, a research group led by Professor Lars Roepstorff of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Swedish veterinarian Staffan Lidbeck, and Norwegian farrier Aksel Vibe worked with Olympic team gold and individual silver medalist Peder Fredricson of Sweden to analyze his horses.   

With the funding of the Swedish-based insurance group Agria, the researchers studied the same horses, over the same fences, on the same indoor arena surface, but with shoes on and shoes off. 

Hoof Research Report from SwedenAt the press conference at Herning, Hoofcare Publishing had the insight of Drs. Tracy Turner and Julie Wilson, well-known veterinarians from Minnesota who were at Herning, where Dr Turner was serving as an FEI vet.

NOTE: This research project is still in progress; the plan is for the final scientific report to be completed in the coming months. The research mentioned in this report is early data. More data will be collected and submitted for peer review, publication and dissemination. 


Following Sweden’s dominance at the Tokyo Olympics, where Swedish riders Peder Fredricson and Henrik von Eckermann excelled on horses without shoes in an indoor arena, the world was curious about their hoofcare programs. After returning home last September, Fredricson and his veterinarian, Staffan Lidbeck, approached Agria, the Sweden-based European horse insurer, about funding for a research study. 

Watch this and more videos on the Hoofcare & Lameness YouTube channel--be sure to subscribe to see new videos.

The group recruited Professor Lars Roepstorff of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who is well known for his research on arena surfaces for the FEI.

Stage 1: Pre-study research 

The first stage of the study involved public feedback on key questions that the research would need to answer. The project interviewed veterinarians, farriers and riders, asking for opinions on barefoot hoofcare as an alternative to shoes. 

The interview's poll showed an equal preference for barefoot hoofcare and traditional shoeing.

Lars Roepstorff overseas barefoot vs shod show jumping research in Sweden
Professor Lars Roepstorff, right, oversaw data collection on horses with and without shoes at the training center of Olympic champion Peder Fredricson in Sweden this year. 

Stage 2: Data collection on jumping horses 

Experiments were run at Peder Fredricson’s training farm in Sweden. (See video in this article.) Horses were fitted with markers on their bodies and limbs for precise measurement with and without shoes via multiple video cameras all recording at once. 

On the foot, the researchers placed markers on both heel bulbs and one on the center of the toe.

Norwegian farrier Aksel Vibe, AWCF, joined the team as the farrier who would shoe and unshoe the horses; he created a protocol for trimming and shoeing each horse. Aksel is also now one of Peder Fredricson's farriers and is also employed by Mustad Hoofcare.

Peder Fredricson, Olympic and World Champion holds a rasp to trim his horse's hoof
Olympic gold medalist show jumper Peder Fredricson of Sweden touches up his barefoot horses' hooves between visits from the farrier. His horses are shod when needed, wear hoof boots when needed, and are micromanaged at an ideal training center with paddocks, pathways and hacking trails designed to achieve the rider's goal of creating or maintaining an optimal sound hoof capable of success in high performance.

The initial study ran for three days, with the team capturing data from eight horses ridden by the same rider, Peder Fredricson. The horses jumped with and without shoes, in random order. Measurements were recorded as each horse cantered to a low vertical and then a moderate oxer on a surface described as typical for an indoor jumper facility. 

Data was collected from over 400 test runs, recording at a rate of 400 data points per second. The markers on the heels and toe were round balls that reflect light.  

Researchers and sponsor for Swedish barefoot hoof project
The research team at the press conference at Herning (left to right): Rider Pedric Fredricson (remote presentation), SLU researcher Lars Roepstorff, Agria Djurförsäkring CEO Agnes Fabricius, Fredricson's veterinarian Staffan Lidbeck, Fredricson's farrier Aksel Vibe.

Stage 3: General kinematics with and without shoes 

The next step will be to analyze how the horses' movements are affected with and without shoes - for example, in terms of stride length, stride height and angles. Roepstorff said he hopes to collect data on deep digital flexor tendon load with and without shoes, and to test whether the coffin (DIP) joint is affected by shoeing. 

Alva Svennson, groom to Peder Fredricson, with hoof protected by SuperFast
How do you define a "bare" foot? In this photo from 2020, Peder Fredricson's groom Alva Svennson holds up a front foot of the show jumper Hansson WL, which was protected by the US-made hoof repair product Super Fast. Peder Fredricson is very interested in alternative shoeing and hoof protection methods; he may train and compete with various hoof protection/shoe types or totally barefoot, as he did in Tokyo. Photo by Roland Thunholm.

Early results previewed in Herning 

The study data clearly showed that the heels expand on landing and contract as the hoof leaves the ground. As expected, both expansion and contraction were consistently greater when the horses were barefoot. 

The early data also documented increased vertical movement of the heels when a horse is barefoot. 

Swedish competitors have shared anecdotally that they detect differences in performance, with a horse being quicker in lifting the front limbs jumping when barefoot and will also have a quicker canter. 

Swedish barefoot show jumping research with Olympic champion Peder Fredricson
Horses were shod and unshod by Norwegian farrier Aksel Vibe, AWCF, so that the same horses were evaluated with and without shoes. The horses may normally compete barefoot on artificial footing, but would be shod for grass jumping at events like Spruce Meadows or Aachen. Photo by Roland Thunholm.

“It's about millimeters in difference with and without shoes, and that might not sound like much,” Roepstorff said in a press release. “But I can draw a parallel: When it comes to ground, we can see that just a few millimeters of additional failure/concussion results in ​​clearly reduced maximum forces and thus less load on the horse's legs."

A stick figure computer rendering helped illustrate the data. For instance, the markers on the heels could be enlarged to highlight the expansion. The arc of the jump was also different between shod and unshod horses over the same fences. Later, joint kinematics will be analyzed. 

This video is an interview with Aksel Vibe, AWCF, who worked with Grevlunda farrier Martin Westford to shoe and unshoe the show jumpers for the study. It is in Swedish but readers may like to see more of the horses' feet and, if you can understand the audio, learn about the shoeing and trimming protocols used in the study.

Roepstorff used a cadaver foot to demonstrate hoof mechanics and effects of weightbearing, followed by a fluoroscopy video.  

Although the early observations and data suggest that barefoot hoofcare has many benefits, both Roepstorff and Lidbeck were cautious in other interviews and in the question-and-answer period with media after the press conference. 

In the Swedish horse news magazine Hippson, Roepstorff is quoted as saying that the goal will ultimately be to explore new materials and techniques that can handle the shoe's most important functions (wear protection, anti-slip protection, etc.), but at the same time allow normal function for the foot. "I think that is the future," he said.

So do we.

Watch for Peder Fredricson and his Swedish teammate, FEI Individual World Champion Henrik von Eckermann, to compete in the famous Spruce Meadows Masters over the weekend of September 11, 2022. It is a leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of international show jumping. Both riders are expected to have their horses shod for the famous Spruce Meadows grass field.

Tracy Turner DVM and Julie Wilson DVM
Thanks to Drs. Turner and Wilson 
Hoofcare Publishing would like to thank Agria Animal Insurers for their assistance with this article and video, and for funding the study. We look forward to the publication of the results. Special thanks to all the researchers and Peder Fredricson and Aksel Vibe; great appreciation to Drs. Turner and Wilson for attending the press conference and sharing valuable impressions. Special thanks to Roland Thunholm for photo permission on Agria photos.

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