Horse racing is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has raised welfare concerns due to injured and euthanized animals. Whilst the cause of musculoskeletal injuries that lead to horse morbidity and mortality is multifactorial, pre-existing pathologies, increased speeds and substrate of the racecourse are likely contributors to foot disease. Horse hooves have the ability to naturally deform during locomotion and dissipate locomotor stresses, yet farriery approaches are utilised to increase performance and protect hooves from wear. Previous studies have assessed the effect of different shoe designs on locomotor performance; however, no biomechanical study has hitherto measured the effect of horseshoes on the stresses of the foot skeleton in vivo. This preliminary study introduces a novel methodology combining three-dimensional data from biplanar radiography with inverse dynamics methods and finite element analysis (FEA) to evaluate the effect of a stainless steel shoe on the function of a Thoroughbred horse's forefoot during walking. Our preliminary results suggest that the stainless steel shoe shifts craniocaudal, mediolateral and vertical GRFs at mid-stance. We document a similar pattern of flexion-extension in the PIP (pastern) and DIP (coffin) joints between the unshod and shod conditions, with slight variation in rotation angles throughout the stance phase. For both conditions, the PIP and DIP joints begin in a flexed posture and extend over the entire stance phase. At mid-stance, small differences in joint angle are observed in the PIP joint, with the shod condition being more extended than the unshod horse, whereas the DIP joint is extended more in the unshod than the shod condition. We also document that the DIP joint extends more than the PIP after mid-stance and until the end of the stance in both conditions. Our FEA analysis, conducted solely on the bones, shows increased von Mises and Maximum principal stresses on the forefoot phalanges in the shod condition at mid-stance, consistent with the tentative conclusion that a steel shoe might increase mechanical loading. However, because of our limited sample size none of these apparent differences have been tested for statistical significance. Our preliminary study illustrates how the shoe may influence the dynamics and mechanics of a Thoroughbred horse's forefoot during slow walking, but more research is needed to quantify the effect of the shoe on the equine forefoot during the whole stance phase, at faster speeds/gaits and with more individuals as well as with a similar focus on the hind feet. We anticipate that our preliminary analysis using advanced methodological approaches will pave the way for new directions in research on the form/function relationship of the equine foot, with the ultimate goal to minimise foot injuries and improve animal health and welfare.
Keywords: Equine biomechanics; Farriery; Finite element analysis; Horse foot; Inverse dynamics; Locomotion; XROMM.