Physics and Horseshoeing

   There is a discussion going on down the blog about show shoes, length of toe and weight.     I remarked that I felt length of toe was probably more stressful on the joints/ligaments of a Morgan show horse than the weight of the shoe/pad.     But I DON’T KNOW for sure.     And I don’t think anyone else does either.    

So…here is a project for some Bright Young Thing at a Horse college for his/her senior paper or for a graduate project.    With the aid of telemetry and pressure plates, can the stress effects on the horse’s musculo-skeletal system of various lengths of toes and various weights of shoes be quantified?    I know that some research has been done of the stress effects of jumping and the figures are eye-opening but are not really applicable to a show horse moving in tanbark footing.    The experimental apparatus would include a fairly patient show horse who would have various lengths of toe created by the insertion or deletion of pads ,  shoes with a provision for adding or subtracting weight (or just put on or take off various weighted shoes during the course of the experiment) and a good farrier.    A camera which would track the height and reach of the hoof and bony column could be aided by markers placed along the leg and on the shoulder (I think that just doing the front legs would yield the most usable information).  A pressure pad on the bottom of the shoe would send a signal indicating whether heavier shoes actually increase the force at which the foot hits the ground.   Your control would be the same horse moving barefoot or with a “keg” shoe.    The stress could be quantified by the length of stretch in the tendons, the descent of the fetlock relative to the position of the coffin bone upon impact or some other measurement such as physiological changes in muscle chemistry, respiration, heart beat.   The horse could be lunged with a side check and surcingle or a dumb jockey to mimic the effects of moving the neck and head back in collection, thus taking the weight factor of the rider out of the equation.  

Lots of people yammer on and on about how damaging heavy shoes and pads are to a show horse’s feet,  yet I hear of very few retired show horses who are unsound.    I think we can come up with some relative values to these shoeing practices.    If we are subjecting our show horses to stresses similar to jumpers/eventers when we put a long toe on, maybe we need to look at whether that toe length should be shorter.   Is there a significant change in stress when the shoes weight is increased above 24 oz.?   Granted, applying the results to horses other than the test subject can be iffy.   However, if we choose a 15h “average”  English or Classic Pleasure horse I think the data would have useful application.   Yes, if one could do the experiment on a variety of  horses the data would be better, but cost would be a factor.

One Response to Physics and Horseshoeing

  1. dressagemorganrider says:

    Sounds like a great idea!

    I’ve always wondered why the “show” world finds weighted shoes, long toes etc. necessary in the first place. There are plenty of photos from the mid-20th century of show Morgans looking pretty fancy, trotting above level, without these things. Some are even barefoot. And I see the occasional comment on here that if a horse doesn’t have good natural action to start with, you can’t manufacture it anyway.

    “Show shoeing” is wicked expensive and in many cases means the horse has to live in a stall and can’t ever be turned out. I don’t think anyone should treat their horse like that, but maybe that’s just my weird opinion? (I don’t think dressage horses should live that way, or jumpers, etc. Eventers are a little smarter this way and tend to look for barns with as much turnout as possible, as the ability to move around helps the horse keep in condition.)

    My own horse wears plain steel shoes weighing about 10 ounces each on her front hooves, and is barefoot behind. If she didn’t have some conformation issues in her front legs, I’d have her barefoot all around. I pay $135 for new front shoes and a trim all round, $85 for a reset and trim, and $45 for a trim when she was barefoot. This is about every 6 weeks, though I can go to 8 in the winter. And I live in one of the more expensive areas, when it comes to farriers.

    (Someone mentioned Waseeka’s Nocturne as an example of a horse with great natural action… BTW I am soon to have a trial on a dressage prospect who has 6 crosses to this great horse. She does *not* move like that, which for my purposes is a good thing.)

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