The right pair of shoes can make all the difference. This is as true of horses as it is of people, according to new research from UConn zoologists and engineers.
Sarah Reid, assistant professor of animal sciences in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, recently published a paper looking at how wearing formerly barefoot horses affects the quality of their gait.
This research arose from an observation made by Katelyn Panos, UConn’s horse farrier. A farrier is an artisan responsible for trimming and shoeing a horse’s hooves. Panos told Reid that she had noticed a strange pattern. In her work, Banos noted that horses wearing plain-footed shoes, rather than full boots, had better mobility.
Perfect horseshoes are standard for most horses. They have a groove (full) that surrounds the nail holes. Ordinary stamping shoes do not have a groove and only have holes in the nails. Dirt and footprints can fill the groove in full shoes, which can increase traction compared to ordinary shoes. The researchers hypothesized that shoeing with normal shoes would reduce concussion on the horse’s legs and improve gait quality over time.
Reed and Panos wanted to see if there would be a measurable difference in movement quality between horses with each type of shoe.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it provided a unique opportunity to investigate this question. During the first months of the epidemic, the horses were put to work and put to pasture barefoot. When they got back to work, they needed to be reformatted.
“We had this opportunity to take a group of horses that had all been managed the same way for a year and try some of these things,” Reed says.
Reid’s team took a baseline measurement of 14 horses in the UConn riding program that included their degree of lameness and inertial motion sensor measurements on each horse’s gait parity. Reid also collaborated with Christine Morgan, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Yukon, to measure angles and range of motion using video technology.
The researchers then put half of the horses in normal character shoes and the other half in full shoes on their hind hooves for two shoeing sessions of six weeks each. The front hooves were all stocky shoes.
“We were interested in the hind legs because that’s where all the power and momentum comes from and that’s where we often see lameness in performance horses,” says Reid. “So anything we can do to support the hind legs can be really helpful.”
While the researchers did not see a difference in any of the measures between the shoe types, there was a significant improvement in the extreme hock angles and degrees of lameness once the horses shivered.
An increase in the maximum hock angles helps improve overall gait quality, Reed explains.
“The more movement a horse has in the hock, the more it can catch that hock and reduce that angle, and the more it can stretch outward,” Reed says. “This allows for more push off the ground which can mean more power, a longer stride and a greater range of motion in the stride itself. These things potentially improve the horse’s athletic performance.”
Putting horses in shoes changes how their foot interacts with the ground. As with humans, shoes provide better ground traction and limit the extent to which the foot slips. This allows the horse to push off the ground more easily and has a better quality of motion.
Next, Reed wants to use a pressure mat to measure how much slip each type of shoe provides on different surfaces as well as other types of shoes.
“What we measured in this study was really important for lameness outcomes and quality of motion outcomes,” Reed says. “Then I think we need to look at the interaction of the foot with the shoe and the surface of the ground and how that interaction changes.”
While the results weren’t surprising, Reid says conducting this kind of research is important, as there is very little scientific literature on common equine management practices.
“With horses, and with any animal, we ask them to do things they might not naturally do, and so I think we owe it to them to do the best we can for them,” Reed says.
The study has been published in Animal Science Journal.
Catlin E. Banos et al., Short Communication: Changes in Gait after 12 Weeks of Shoeing in Previously Barefoot Horses, Animal Science Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1093/jas/skac374
the quote: Shod horses show significant improvement in gait quality (2023, March 29) Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-shod-horses-gait-quality.html
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