Study delves into effects of horse shoes on osteoarthritis

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A research team at the University of Kentucky is delving into the question of whether osteoarthritis in horses can be lessened or prevented with greater understanding of horseshoes and vibrations up the horse’s leg.

The Dynamic Transmissibility Platform team from the university’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering is aiming to create a system to test the proposed theory that horseshoe designs can be used to reduce osteoarthritis, working towards a better understanding of the biomechanics and loading on equine joints. They are creating a testing device to provide researchers with a way to determine if certain horseshoe types affect osteoarthritis in horses.

Using a voice coil actuator, a function generator, an amplifier, and a power source, the team will send vibrations through a horse leg and use sensors to measure the vibrations at different points along the leg.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is a common issue in horses. It is a disease that involves the breaking down or damage of the cartilage between bones, which affects the whole joint.

Mentored by Dr Mick Peterson, a professor and the director of the Racetrack Safety Program, the team comprises Katie Heissenbuttel, Landon Feese, Ashley Johnson, and Mason Sheets. Jennifer Janes, an associate professor at the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, is an adviser.

“There is limited research on this topic; therefore, gaining a better understanding of the impact of horseshoes on medical conditions could provide a basis for future research. Our proposal is to design a system that will measure the transmission of vibrations through a horse’s leg,” the team said.

The project is part of a symbiotic alignment between the university’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, which is part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. This alignment often fosters a focus on agricultural and/or equine topics in the department’s required two-semester capstone course.

The year-long senior design project helps the students experience the wide-ranging and complex problem-solving skills they will need as engineers.

Alicia Modenbach, PhD, PE, lecturer and student services coordinator within the department, said the senior design capstone course is a perfect fit for addressing engineering problems and challenges faced by the equestrian industry, “since we are in Lexington, Kentucky, often referred to as the ‘Horse Capital of the World.’ Our students get first-hand experience integrating engineering design with a local industry’s needs.”

Modenbach has advised several teams that have tackled equestrian or horse-related projects.

“Biosystems engineering blends biology with engineering principles to design solutions for living systems. Many of our students have an interest in medical school, veterinary school or other biomedical applications of engineering, so having the opportunity to work closely with a local industry like the equestrian industry on projects that touch upon so many of those interests is invaluable to our students,” Modenbach said.

Another project under way is Lateral Helmet Loading, which is contributing to developing and establishing ASTM equestrian helmet standards. The team comprises Stuart Nicholas, Sam Gilbert and Katelyn Rice, and advisors include Stephanie Bonin, senior biomechanical engineer, MEA Forensic.

Article courtesy University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

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