Study explores the impact of farriery interventions on horse symmetry

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A study conducted at Britain’s Royal Veterinary College, which examines the effects of farriery interventions, in this case, road nails, has demonstrated the impact on horse movement symmetry, including weight bearing and propulsion.

Key findings from the peer-reviewed study show that while there are many different shoes on the market and various approaches to shoeing and trimming, it is important to look at the effect of changes in shoeing on the symmetry of movement, rather than the other way round.

This evidence-based research can then be combined with owner and trainer observations to help make more informed decisions.

The study, which used tungsten road nails, indicates that pelvic movement symmetry in horses trotting on tarmac can be altered by the application of a road nail to the lateral heel of a hindlimb shoe.

Subtle asymmetry in pelvic movement can, for example, be quantified as the difference in displacement amplitude between left and right tuber coxae (hip hike difference). The changes in pelvic movement symmetry – observed as a function of applying a road nail – can be explained by increased weight-bearing and propulsion in the hind limb with the road nail.

Using wireless inertial measurement units, which were fitted to the poll, withers, sacrum and left and right tuber coxae of each horse, the results indicate that this form of data collection provides a valuable method of evaluating small movement changes of the horse in reaction to different shoeing protocols and shoe types.

Movement symmetry is an important parameter influencing longevity and performance, and can be measured irrespective of the surface (firm or soft) the horse is worked on.

Lee Collins and Peter Day, graduates of the college’s Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research course, worked alongside academics at the RVC to conduct the research.

The project is the culmination of the pair’s work on the course, which offers professional farriers the chance to develop the skill-set necessary to produce original research and increase the evidence base behind farriery.

Day, who has worked as a farrier at the RVC for more than 20 years, said: “Within the farriery industry, we talk a lot about the changes we can achieve with different shoeing and foot trimming protocols and most, if not all, is anecdotal and purely based on subjective visual observation.

“As part of my diploma, I wanted to research something that was relevant to farriery and could be done outside the laboratory.

“My hope is that, having gained this qualification, I would like to undertake a master’s degree and will carry out further research to evaluate the use of traction devices and shoe designs for grip and propulsion. It is my intention to relate this work on upper body movement to the level of the hoof.”

Course director Thilo Pfau says it is exciting to see the first peer-reviewed publication that has arisen from work undertaken as part of the Graduate Diploma in Equine Locomotor Research.

The publication describes the combined outcome of two research projects undertaken by Day and Collins as part of their degree at the college.

“We always encourage our students to create research of publishable quality and to contribute to the much-needed evidence-base surrounding trimming, shoeing and farriery. Peter and Lee have done exactly this, and we congratulate them for this achievement and are looking forward to others following in their footsteps.”

The course allows farriers to develop such skills as referencing, communication, presentation and academic writing, with a key emphasis on teamwork and the value of a shared goal. More widely, the course aims to promote better communication between farriers and veterinary practitioners.

The full paper, The Effect of Tungsten Road Nails on Locomotor Biomechanics in Horses Moving on Tarmac Surface, is published in The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

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