This article was reposted. Read the original article on The Horse.
A team of researchers at Michigan State University's (MSU) McPhail
Equine Performance Center offers hope to horse owners facing underrun
heel and flat-footed woes with a 16-month study examining the short-term
and long-term effects of a specific barefoot trimming technique on hoof
In the study, seven previously barefoot horses were trimmed every six
weeks with a technique that leveled the hoof to the live sole, lowered
the heels, beveled the toe, and rounded the peripheral wall. The sole,
frog, and bars were left intact.
"This study has shown that a group of school horses performed well and
remained sound when trimmed so that the frog, bars, and sole of the foot
were engaged in the weight-bearing function," explained Hilary Clayton,
BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRCVS, the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in
Equine Sports Medicine at MSU. "We believe it is important for these
parts of the foot to contact the ground, not only to distribute the
weight-bearing forces and to support the coffin bone from below, but
also to provide the horse with proprioceptive input from receptor cells
in the heels."
The first four months of the study established the hoof shape
representative of the barefoot trim. From this baseline, morphological
(shape and structure) changes in the hoof's response to the trim
technique were monitored from months 4 through 16. At 0, 4, and 16
months, the researchers measured hoof morphology from lateral (from the
side), dorsal (from the rear), and solar photographs, as well as
lateromedial (side to side) radiographs.
As the study progressed, subjects showed palmar/plantar migration of the
heels, meaning the heels shifted further back underneath the limb, with
increased support length, heel angle, and solar angle of the coffin
bone. "This research has shown that the feet do indeed adapt and become
healthier," Clayton noted. "One of the interesting findings was that in
response to weight-bearing on the frog and bars, the entire heel region
migrated back underneath the limb, leading to an increased
weight-bearing area and an increase in heel angle. These findings offer
hope for treating underrun heels."
Horse owners interested in giving barefoot trimming a try shouldn't
expect immediate results, Clayton cautioned. "It is important to realize
that it takes a long time--months or sometimes even years--for a
horse's hooves to adapt to being barefoot if the horse has been
accustomed to wearing shoes for a long time," she remarked. "Owners who
contemplate changing to a barefoot trim need to find a farrier who is
trained and experienced in this manner of trimming, and they need to be
prepared for a period of adaptation.
"There is great research potential in this area. One area where I would
like to see more research is in comparing different types of barefoot
trim in horses that live in different environmental conditions (desert
vs. wet) and on different types of ground (hard, stony, sandy, soft),"
Clayton added. "We know quite a lot about wild horses' feet and how they
differ according to habitat, but less is known about managing the feet
of domestic horses under different conditions."
This study, "Effects of barefoot trimming on hoof morphology," was published in the Australian Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available here.