Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Hoof boots, shoes and proprioception

I had an email recently from someone whose horse had been diagnosed with arthritis and they were thinking of using hoof boots to provide extra protection against concussion.

Thinking about it, I wasn't sure this was such a good idea. In human runners, cushioned trainers have been shown NOT to protect against concussion - in fact they tend to fool the body into thinking it is running on a soft surface (and so increasing stride length) but they don't reduce impact forces, so they can actually mean that joints suffer more concussion, not less.

If the same happens with hoof boots for horses - which is a reasonable assumption - then boots (or worse, boots with pads) could actually put more stress on joints.

I almost never use hoof boots here, even on the rehab horses, for lots of reasons but I know some people find them invaluable.

I suspect that if you need to provide sole protection then they can be useful, at least in the short term. For instance, a horse with thin soles might benefit until it has grown a thicker sole, or a horse with metabolic problems like insulin resistance would benefit if boots enabled it to be exercised in comfort.

On the whole, though, I think they should be used with caution - especially if they produce a magically longer stride, because that might just be a result of lack of proprioception.

Of course, the same is also true of metal shoes - in fact even more so, because they don't protect the sole as much as hoof boots do. Indeed, in his book "No foot, no horse" farrier Martin Deacon confirms:

"Metal shoes increase the concussive forces transmitted from the hoof to the bones inside the hoof. They are also known to decrease the hoof's natural shock absorption."

Despite this, we tend to uncritically assume that a long stride as a good thing, no matter what surface the horse is on. Perhaps we should be a bit more critical - a long stride on tarmac (for instance) IS great if the horse has a healthy hoof which has excellent shock-absorbing properties.

Its possibly not such a great sign if the horse is shod or in boots, because he will have little or no perception that he is on a concussive surface, and the long stride that results may be causing increased concussion for his joints.

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