Balanced feet important, even in presence of conformational issues

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A photograph and three-dimensional reconstruction of one uneven footed horse showing the marker set used in the study. The photograph shows the anatomical and tracking markers used for the study. It illustrates the definition of a horse with uneven feet where the right forelimb has a lower hoof angle and the left forelimb has a higher hoof angle. The lower image provides an example of the functional consequences of unevenness in one horse with a difference in dorsal hoof wall angle of 8 degrees. The hoof on the left has the lower hoof angle. Images: PLoS ONE
A photograph and three-dimensional reconstruction of one uneven footed horse showing the marker set used in the study. The photograph shows the anatomical and tracking markers used for the study. It illustrates the definition of a horse with uneven feet where the right forelimb has a lower hoof angle and the left forelimb has a higher hoof angle.
The lower image provides an example of the functional consequences of unevenness in one horse with a difference in dorsal hoof wall angle of 8 degrees. The hoof on the left has the lower hoof angle. Images: PLoS ONE

The importance of keeping your horse’s front feet even has been highlighted in fresh research.

The international study team, which assessed the front legs of 34 riding horses at a trot, found evidence that uneven feet appeared to have more influence on loading factors than the individual foot characteristics of each horse.

So, even if your horse’s front feet are less than perfect, the evidence suggests keeping them even will be a big help.

The researchers, whose findings have been published in the open-access journal, PLoS ONE, said left-right symmetry in the lower legs can be an important prerequisite for a successful performance.

It was often hypothesized that asymmetric or uneven feet were important enhancing factors for the development of lameness, they said.

“On a population level, it has been demonstrated that uneven footed horses are retiring earlier from elite level competition, but the biomechanical consequences are not yet known,” they reported.

The researchers, from Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, set out to compare the functional locomotor imbalances of horses with uneven feet to those with even feet.

They assessed the lower front leg movement of  the horses used in the study. The front hooves of each animal were assessed in terms of their flatness and distal hoof wall angle to determine whether they were even or uneven. A difference of 1.5 degrees or more in the distal hoof wall angle of a horse’s front feet was defined as uneven for the purposes of the study.

The research team found that, in horses with uneven feet, the side with the flatter foot showed a significantly larger maximal horizontal braking and vertical ground reaction force, a larger vertical fetlock displacement and a suppler fetlock spring.

Feet with a steeper hoof angle were correlated with an earlier braking-propulsion transition.

For a horse to remain at steady state trot, the braking and propulsive impulses over a stride must balance otherwise acceleration or deceleration would occur.

“The conformational differences between both forefeet were more important for loading characteristics than the individual foot conformation of each individual horse,” Sarah Jane Hobbs and her colleagues reported.

“The differences in vertical force and braking force between uneven forefeet could imply either an asymmetrical loading pattern without a pathological component or a subclinical lameness as a result of a pathological development in the steeper foot.”

Wiggers N, Nauwelaerts SLP, Hobbs SJ, Bool S, Wolschrijn CF, et al. (2015) Functional Locomotor Consequences of Uneven Forefeet for Trot Symmetry in Individual Riding Horses. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0114836. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114836

The full study can be read here

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