Thermoelectric sensors tested for their ability to identify hoof problems in horses

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Police horse Viggo gets set up to test thermoelectric sensors for their ability to assess the health of his hooves. The interdisciplinary research project is managed by Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, as well as industry collaborators. Photo: Mia Halleröd Palmgren
Police horse Viggo gets set up to test thermoelectric sensors for their ability to assess the health of his hooves. The interdisciplinary research project is managed by Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, as well as industry collaborators. Photo: Mia Halleröd Palmgren

Thermoelectric sensors are being tested in a university study in Sweden to see whether they can successfully detect hoof problems in horses.

Fifteen police horses in Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg, have been enlisted for the research.

It is hoped that the technique will ultimately prove to be an attractive alternative to other diagnostic tools such as x-rays.

“Some injuries in the hoof capsule of the horses can be difficult to detect, for example cracks or infections in the tissue between the hoof wall and the hoof bone,” said Jennie Sköld, a Master’s student of science engineering physics at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.

“By measuring the heat transport in the hoof it might be possible to detect damage that cannot be observed in other ways.”

Masters student Jennie Sköld, left, with Viggo and Susanne Johansson, who manages the police horses in Gothenburg.
Masters student Jennie Sköld, left, with Viggo and Susanne Johansson, who manages the police horses in Gothenburg.

Sköld has successfully combined two of her major interests – physics and horses – in her research project.

She temporarily moved from Värmland to Gothenburg to undertake the study.

Sköld has been working with a range of collaborators and is now undertaking the first work using live horses.

“My experience with horses has really helped me a lot,” she said. “It’s not necessarily easy to put sensors, wires and equipment on a horse and convince it to stand still,” she explained as she scratched the day’s test subject, Viggo, on the back.

Viggo accepted the procedure, resting his head on the shoulder of his friend and farrier Björn Berg while accepting treats from veterinarian Åsa Hinton.

“This is totally harmless for the horse,” Hinton explained.

“If this method works out the way we hope it will, hopefully we can detect a stress reaction in the hoof capsule before the problem gets too severe.

“In some cases, it might be possible to decrease the area of surgery, since we could know the extent of the defective area.”

The thermoelectric sensors that are attached to the hooves measure the thermal conductivity and make it possible to see the structure of a healthy hoof capsule.

The sensors were developed by a spin-off company from the university, Hot Disk. The company is working on a version that is more user-friendly and can more easily be put on a hoof.

After more than 40 hours working with the horses, Sköld and her supervisor, Besira Mekonnen Mihiretie, have started to see patterns revealing how the results from a healthy hoof capsule look.

“I really hope that this results in a better way for farriers and veterinaries to take care of the horses,” Sköld said.

The police horses in Gothenburg were used for the study for several reasons. They are healthy, and kept and trained the same way. Most of them are of the same breed and they have the same farrier.

“On top of that,” says Susanne Johansson, division manager at the police unit in Göteborg, “they are used to strange things, but to take part in a research project is a completely new experience.”

Reporting: Mia Halleröd Palmgren

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