Most simulation studies on equine hoof biomechanics employed linear elastic (LE) material models. However, the equine hoof wall's stress-strain relationship is nonlinear and varies with hydration level. Therefore, it is essential to investigate the accuracy of the LE model compared to more advanced material models, such as hyperelastic (HE) or viscoelastic models. The current research investigated performances of LE and three HE models (Mooney-Rivlin, Neo-Hookean, and Marlow) in describing equine hoof's mechanical behavior using finite element (FE) analysis. In the first attempt, a rectangular tissue specimen was simulated using the previously published experimental data. The Marlow HE model predicted the hoof wall stress-strain curve more accurately than the LE, Mooney-Rivlin, and Neo-Hookean models. The LE model accuracy, compared with the experimental results, varied within the reported range of the strain. However, the Marlow HE model perfectly matched the experimental data for a wide range of strains. In the second attempt, the entire hoof, including nine associated tissues, was modeled from computed tomography (CT) scans of an equine forelimb, and analyzed at trotting and standing modes of locomotion. The effect of environmental humidity on the hoof wall material properties was incorporated at four hydration levels; 0%, 53%, 75%, and 100%. The simulation results of the LE and HE models indicated that the minimum principal strain distribution on the hoof wall remained under 2% for various hydration levels and gait conditions. The numerical results of the Marlow HE model demonstrated better agreement with published experimental data compared to the LE, Mooney-Rivlin, and Neo-Hookean models. Higher hydration levels significantly increased the strains - a potential explanation could be the fact that the higher hydration levels decreased stiffness of the hoof wall tissues and ultimately increased strains. Higher ground reaction forces increased the von Mises stress at various points in the hoof wall, especially in the quarter regions and close to the coronet, where cracks and fractures are found more often in the physiological conditions.
Keywords: Equine hoof; Finite element analysis; Hydration level; Hyperelasticity; Linear elasticity.
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