Tufts Conference Examines the Foot, Inside and Out

Adapting to the environment, informed by genetic codes, and endeavoring to meet human demands, the horse's hoof is like an individual fingerprint on the human hand. Decoding the process the horse uses to arrive at his ideal hoof form filled three days of lectures, discussions, and demonstrations at the May 2-4 Natural Hoofcare Conference at Tufts University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The program was directed by Tia Nelson, DVM, of Helena, Mont., a longtime farrier. Her contention was that environment--more than human trimming and shoes--influences all aspects of the hoof's condition, shape, and growth.

Other speakers were Robert Bowker, DVM, PhD, of Michigan State University; David Hood, DVM, PhD, of Texas A&M University and The Hoof Project; Michael Wildenstein, Certified Journeyman Farrier and Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (Hons), farrier instructor at Cornell University; and Michael Mooney, Tufts' farrier. Carl Kirker-Head, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, ECVS, served as moderator.

Bowker maintains that individual horses have a distinct composition of tissue in the rear part of the foot--including the thickness of the lateral cartilages and the amount of fibrocartilage in the distal cushion--that controls the foot's ability to adapt to environmental and human demands. Horses with inferior foot architecture, such as thin cartilage or fatty, weak digital cushion tissue, will compensate by placing excess stress on other structures within the foot. Bowker feels that these "bad-footed" horses are prone to chronic foot problems and have shorter life expectancies than "good-footed" horses.

He now says navicular disease as an environmental condition of the entire foot, rather than a disease of a single bone and its attachments. "Navicular disease is not age-related," he concluded. "It is stress-related."

Hood's new research examines the digital cushion and changes in weight bearing on hard versus soft, deformable surfaces. He presented data on the adaptability of the hoof, specifically the asymmetric hoof, which gradually deforms internally as well as externally.

Wildenstein presented two dramatic lectures on cases at Cornell and discussed owner education and environmental effects on the foot.

"Develop a keen eye for the obvious," was Nelson's closing advice. She described how three neglected horses had been kept in an identical environment and their feet responded differently, recognizing the power of the environment and the likelihood of successful adaptation in individual horses

About the Author

Fran Jurga

Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at www.hoofcare.com. Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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