In racehorses, the identification of risk factors for lameness has driven research efforts into lameness prevention strategies.
The foot-surface interaction is of particular interest and has been the subject of a lot of research. To date this has primarily been through the investigation of ground-surface composition and properties, in addition to the effects specific surfaces have on the horse’s way of going. Changes in speed, stride length, and frequency have been observed, and the vibrations (shock waves) resulting from the initial foot-surface collision have been measured on different surfaces. However, the surface represents only half the story: what about the foot? In practice it is the foot that we are more likely to influence on an individual level.
As part of my PhD studies at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), we have investigated whether it is beneficial to use novel farriery techniques such as ‘sole-packing’ and padding materials to improve shock absorption in horses exercising upon both firm and soft surfaces. This work has been kindly funded by the Horse Betting Levy Board (HBLB) and the RVC Paul Mellon Trust. Here we will discuss the intricacies of the foot-surface interaction, what is already known about the effect of surface, and how our research into the use of sole-packing materials might be another arrow to our bow in the prevention of lameness in racehorses.