Veterinarians, farriers and engineers are being urged to seize opportunities to work together and engage with research institutions in order to increase the scientific evidence underpinning farriery.
The recently published editorial in the Equine Veterinary Journal highlights the need for further farriery research.
The piece, by Renate Weller, Amy Barstow, Haydn Price and Thilo Pfau, who are members of the Structure and Motion groups at the Royal Veterinary College in London, explores farriery research to date and discusses reasons for a lack of scientific publications compared to other fields of equine research, despite the importance of farriery in addressing lameness.
It suggest that a lack of opportunities for farriers to gain research experience as the key factor limiting research.
In addition, research into farriery is technically challenging, requiring coordinated efforts between veterinary, farriery and engineering experts.
It is also hard to secure funding for such research projects, despite their clinical significance.
The authors noted that there had been major advances in evidence‐based veterinary medicine, in terms of both diagnosis and treatment of equine‐related problems.
“Yet farriery,” they wrote, “is still based mainly on historical anecdotes rather than robust peer‐reviewed research.”
A simple search on PubMed, a widely used online database for research, using the keywords “farriery”, “podiatry”, “shoeing” and “trimming” in combination with horse/equine in the title and/or keyword list yielded fewer than 200 papers.
In comparison, the search terms “colic” and “horse” or “fracture” and “horse” render about 1500 and “diagnostic imaging” and “horse/equine” more than 6000.
“Why is it,” they asked, “that it is generally accepted that foot care plays a key role in maintaining and improving horse soundness and performance, yet there continues to be a lack of scientific evidence in this area?”
They said the 1990s and 2000s had been a golden period for research into the effects of shoeing and trimming on lower limb kinetics and kinematics.
Since then, there have been considerable advances in diagnostic imaging techniques used to diagnose palmar heel pain, enabling veterinarians to differentiate between different causes of this syndrome.
“However, this advancement in evidence‐based diagnosis has not yet been paralleled in farriery‐based treatment, where still today there are many postulated beneficial farriery protocols but limited evidence to substantiate them.”
They said that understanding the normal foot biomechanics of the horse was essential groundwork for determining when foot biomechanics were suboptimal.
However, the understanding of “what is normal” was mainly based on anecdotal evidence, often perpetuated by textbooks without scientific evidence.
They pointed to the difficulties inherent in some farriery research. For example, interventional studies, where one farriery method is compared against another, may involve the repeat application and removal of shoes that may compromise hoof wall integrity and require the recruitment of a suitable number of horses for a robust estimation of small effects.
“This is especially challenging if a certain pathological condition is investigated.”
Longitudinal farriery projects were complicated because hoof quality, growth and distortion were influenced by many external factors.
Technical challenges in farriery research require the combination of engineering, veterinary and farriery knowledge and skills.
“Engineers willing to forego industry salaries in exchange for equine research are a rare commodity,” they noted.
The authors said that opportunities for farriers to engage with research were thankfully now increasing.
“Higher education institutions have recognised the demand for research experience in the farriery profession and have started to include this in their teaching portfolio.”
They stressed that farriery was an integral part of managing both the sound and lame horse.
“In order to increase the scientific evidence underpinning farriery, veterinarians, farriers and engineers must seize opportunities to work together and engage with research institutions.
“Differences in training and professional experiences will lead to farriers, veterinarians and scientists to approach problems from different angles and the integration of the different expertise of these groups through farriery research is essential not only for producing practice relevant research but also for dissemination to the people in practice to the benefit of the horse.”
Evidence‐based farriery – does it exist?
R. Weller, A. Barstow, H. Price, T. Pfau
Equine Veterinary Journal, 11 July 2018, https://doi.org/10.1111/evj.12978
The full editorial can be read here.