Alternative hoof care gains success in Europe & the US

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One of the world’s fastest harness horses  - Sebastian K -  has so far trotted his way to more than $US2.8 million dollars around race tracks in Europe and America, barefoot. According to his trainer, he goes better without shoes. He recently ran a world record time for a mile – 1.49 seconds, barefoot, in the US. His trainers and connections are Swedes.
 
And for many of the Swedish harness horses, if they are not barefoot, then they are wearing  flexible (metal)  shoes with polyurethane inserts which mimic the function of a barefoot hoof.  They find that the hoof functions better if it is not cast in rigid steel.
 

 

Photo courtesy Chris Tully www.harnesslink.com

Photo courtesy Chris Tully www.harnesslink.com

 “Locking a horse’s hoof into a traditional shoe takes away its natural movement and stability. Once this impediment is removed, your horse will regain his stability and his confidence will improve,“ – RazerHorse 

 
And its not only the Swedes. At Caen in France in May, 14 of the 19 starters in a major harness feature race, ran barefoot. And in the thoroughbred industry, a significant number of horses trained by South African trainer Mike De Kock in Europe and the US are currently being trained barefoot and shod only for raceday.
 
While it is not unusual for harness horses in Europe, Scandanavia and the US to race barefoot, most of the equine athletes still remain shod.  Some trainers switch between barefoot and shoes, depending on the surface and conditions for each race. There are concerns that without shoes the horses will wear their hooves down too much.  So there is a market for a ‘bridge’ product between traditional metal shoes, and barefoot.
 
Which is where  Swedish technology underpinning RazerHorse comes in. Their shoe design allows unilateral movement of the heel bulbs. Just like on a barefoot horse.  The companion product ProPads, are designed to keep the frog in the equation as a shock absorber and spread the load across more of the hoof than simply the hoof walls.  Again. Similar to the way a barefoot hoof functions.  Based on Swedish research, the company goes on to say:  “The frog acts as an airbag when it has full contact with the ground, then absorbs approximately 60% of the recoil shock that occurs upon landing.”

Consequently they have worked to overcome the way a metal shoe elevates the hoof and disables the frog’s innate function. ‘The ProPad gives a barefoot feeling and restores proper frog function when shod,” the company states. “Locking a horse’s hoof into a traditional shoe takes away its natural movement and stability. Once this impediment is removed, your horse will regain his stability and his confidence will improve.“
 
What is interesting for us at The Functional Hoof Conference, is this convergence of techniques. On the one hand there are concerns about protecting the hoof, but acknowledgement that traditional methods of farriery may limit the very  functionality of the hoof. And consequently we are seeing efforts to create a solution which works better than a rigid metal shoe.
 
- Rebecca Jacaranda Scott