Thursday 9 September 2010

State of the art hooves

I had a great text from Sarah Braithwaite over the weekend. She has been doing brilliantly competing in endurance with her horse Morris this season - she has obviously found the perfect job for him, and they are having a terrific time whizzing round at high speed and being regularly placed.
As part of any endurance ride, there are of course vet and farrier checks. This weekend a lovely farrier who was officiating at the ride asked Sarah why she didn't use glue-on shoes. He told her she would need them if she ever did much roadwork (!) and that glue-ons were "state of the art".
It got me thinking...just because something is "state of the art"doesn't mean it can the job better something which has been honed over a squillion years of evolution... In fact "state of the art" usually means man-made, trade-marked, developed-and-patented-in-the-last-18-months-and-something-we-can-make-money-from...

Nothing wrong with that per se, but its no substitute for the real thing. Look at the photo above - that guy really DOES have "state of the art" "feet" but he didn't choose them - they are a brilliant substitute for what he is missing - but we don't see our top atheletes rushing out to amputate their limbs for competition.

Its obvious really - compare the top photo to the one above - the shape is similar but the most advanced, state of the art prosthetic is never going to be as robust, as simple or as perfectly biomechanically appropriate as a healthy, functioning foot or hoof. A glue-one shoe may be "state of the art" but its a compromise, its not the real thing - just like the prosthetic legs shown above.

And if your horse doesn't have healthy functioning hooves - well, to be honest there are easier, cheaper and better ways to improve them than glue-on shoes ;-)


Andrea said...

Wellll I think prosthetics are a little bit more of a sensitive subject... I am sure he didn't choose to lose him limbs and I think he's probably be pretty mad if you told him his prosthetics just won't do cause they're not natural! It's an odd things, all these advances in modern engineering... they give our athletes advantages where they never would have had them before. 200 years ago, that athlete would have been toast, in a coffin somewhere. Now, he can go to the Olympics. What about our horses? Can an athlete competing at Rolex really and truly compete without some sort of addition? Rolex athletes are freaks of nature - no wild animal would gallop for that long and that fast and jump enormous obstacles at the same time, all while carrying loads. So does this make it morally wrong for us to compete them that hard? Or do we need to give our athletes a leg-up? Or not?

And the Imprints! I wanted to ask you about those. But mostly I want to know what you think about giving athletes advantages, giving them powers beyond what they have. Mortally wrong? Yes. Without a doubt, it really is. What do you think?

Nic Barker said...

There's no doubt that for the athlete pictured, the prosthetics that have enabled him to compete are amazing and a total miracle. I'd never suggest otherwise - my point is only that I suspect he would agree that a healthy, functioning pair of legs would be even better.

For the horses, I actually wouldn't class glue-on shoes as an advantage - they limit proprioception and restrict hoof function (it was Andrew Poynton, the inventor of Imprints, whom I quoted last week, who said as much!). I think its more that we haven't really even touched on the capabilities of a truly healthy hoof - as as far as Rolex Kentucky goes, I am relying on people like you to answer the critics on that one :-)

Andrea said...

That's true. I think until we teach horses how to speak human we aren't ever going to really know what they have to say about their feet. (Did the inventor of Imprints ever say that? Interesting!) I do know that in my own experiences with barefoot, my horse has only ever slipped once in three years of eventing (through the sopping wet New England mountains) but it had catastrophic consequences. Now, the interesting thing is that I honestly can't attribute her injuries to being barefoot, but to a set of hock injections that I had done at the insistance of everyone around me. She didn't need them, as she was sound without them, but she did move instantly better. Unfortunately, she was already in very heavy work, and her hardworking limbs as far as we tell just were overstressed by the time they experienced the slip, which sent them over the edge. She has rebounded tenfold, I am glad to say, but it begs the question - with these healed legs, do I requite traction to continue eventing? 99.9% of the time, I feel like I have it, and the rest of the time I want that little bit of slide a bare foot gives me in a situation where an injury might occur from a 'stuck' leg. Studs TERRIFY me and I don't think I'd be comfortable with them. I also don't really enjoy riding shod horses... my barefoot horse is far more enjoyable.

In other words, I am under ethical pressure - does my horse need additional traction at this point in her life to continue eventing? - and don't really have an answer at this time. Will Gogo go to Rolex? Nah. But she will go Prelim without a doubt so long as her legs hold up, and I would have never even once considered additional traction had she not injured herself so seriously a year ago.

Nic Barker said...

I had a comment through from a friend, Cristina, and stupidly deleted it by mistake, but here it is:

Cristina has left a new comment on your post "State of the art hooves":

"Don't know about the Kentucky Rolex but I remember a horse going round Badminton barefoot - clear I think, certainly got round.

Think it was grey but the rider wasn't one I knew.

I remember because I had just got an HD box and some friends came round to watch it live at mine and we were commenting on it."

I agree with you about studs, Andrea, and agree about your horse's injury but I think the traction question is impossible to answer, Horses will occasionally slip and most of the time its innocuous. Horses will occasionally get injured - barefoot or shod - and its our job to minimise that but hindsight is a wonderful thing...For sure there are currently more injuries caused by shoes than barefoot, but thats not really an answer either :-)