These 3D printed horse shoes might be the wave of the future when it comes to equine shoeing practices.
Though 3D printing is still relatively new, it has already been used to print skin, bone and heart tissue for human transplantation, and now it is being used in Australia to print horse shoes.
It began in 2013 when John Barnes, Titanium Technologies Leader at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Victoria, produced a set of titanium racing plates to correspond with that year's celebration of the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Barnes thought it would be a good opportunity to promote the use of a scanner rather than the traditional computer-assisted drawing (CAD) software to produce the prints.
"The hand-held scanner is pretty advanced, so it picks up what you want and then you can trim the file electronically if need be," Barnes said in an interview with the Paulick Report. "Scanners are advancing rapidly and becoming easier to use, primarily from the push in 3D printing."
Australian trainer John Moloney offered one of his racehorses to try the prints. While the lightweight titanium shoes didn't catch on, it did spark a lot of interest.
"It was never meant to be a competitive shoe, but we've fielded many inquiries from all over the world on what might be possible," Barnes said of the publicity stunt. "The durability would be quite good. Aluminum is tough to compete with for racing because, while titanium is light, aluminum is lighter yet, so it becomes a [thickness] issue and then whether it gets too thin to do its primary job of protecting the hoof."
But while 3D scanning and printing technology may not be entirely ready for use in the racehorse industry, it has already done great things outside of it.
Barnes's partner in the experiment, equine podiatrist Dr. Luke Wells-Smith, of Equine Podiatry and Lameness Centre in New South Wales, has had a lot of success using 3D technology with laminitis patients.
The first patient to benefit from this technology was a pony named Holly, which Wells-Smith had been treating for some time. With the help of the 3D scanner, he was able to design and print a full rocker shoe to help improve Holly's condition. Since then, he has done the same for many other horses, with various conditions.
"We have designed multiple shoes for a range of horses in different disciplines," he said. "A wide-webbed, rolled-toe plastic shoe was designed for a Warmblood dressage horse with a broken back hoof-pastern axis. Further, shoes similar to Holly's were printed in plastic to treat two other ponies with laminitis. A unique design technique was used to alleviate pedal-bone pressure in a severely laminitic broodmare. This 3D-printed shoe had very promising results, and the shoe was designed specifically around the radiographs for this horse."
Today he is working on creating an improved version of Barnes's 3D racing plates.
"This technology is moving quickly and much of what we have will be revealed in the near future, no doubt."
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