Study Shows Unique Equine Shoes Mimic Barefoot Benefits

A study out of Belgium sought to determine how medial-lateral heel movement in horses was affected by shoe configuration when compared to barefoot hooves. Drs. Brunsting, Dumoulin, Oosterlinck, Haspeslagh, Lefère and Pille worked eight Warmbloods on a treadmill at the walk, trot and canter for the study.

Barefoot hooves are flexible; they move with each step and have an elastic rebound as the horse moves off each hoof. This motion absorbs concussion and improves blood flow in limbs. Wearing shoes, however, restricts heel movement, limiting concussion absorption and blood flow.

All 16 forelimbs were tested. The hooves were either left barefoot, fitted with a conventional shoe or fitted with a split-toe shoe. The conventional shoe was a standard steel shoe with a toe clip. The split-toe shoe is a new shoe designed to enable heel expansion. The shoe has a toe clip and side clips between the second and third nail hole on each side. Once in place, the shoe is sawn through at the toe so the two halves of the shoe move independently of each other.

Typically, barefoot hooves expand during impact and midstance; heels contract during breakover. Heel expansion is greater at the trot and canter than at the walk, but heel contraction is consistent in all gaits.

The researchers found that conventional shoes restrict heel expansion by 36 percent compared to barefoot hooves. The team found no significant difference in heel expansion between hooves wearing split-toe shoes and barefoot hooves. They also noted that though shoes protect the hoof from excessive wear and can increase traction, that they can increase shock impact and weight on the distal limb. They conclude that the split-toe shoe provides advantages of both barefoot and shod hooves.

Read more at EquiManagement.

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