Critics of the horse racing industry cite musculoskeletal injury to racehorses as a primary concern.
A joint research team developed a multi-pronged approach to study the forces exerted on horses' bones. The international team, uniting researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia, the U.K.'s Royal Veterinary College, and Brown University in the U.S., used a combination of 3D x-ray imaging, computer simulations, and 3D models to study the nature and extent of the stresses a horse's feet sustain.
Research team leader Dr. Olga Panagiotopolou of the University of Queensland says;
"This novel combination has enabled us to study the effect of a stainless steel horseshoe on skeletal stresses within the forefoot of a live racehorse...This is the first time this combination of techniques has been used in large live animals such as horses."
In this study, the team used 3D radiography to view the foot stress on a thoroughbred horse as it walked. Brown University's Professor Stephen Gatesy and his colleagues first developed the imaging technique in order to study bone interaction in smaller species.
Dr. Panagiotopolou used animation techniques to translate the radiographic images into a life-size 3D model of the horse's foot.
"By combining the 3D model with other research data we were able to measure the force the horse's foot bones generated when they hit the ground and develop comprehensive simulations," she said.
Professor John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College says that this research just scratches the surface. Researchers will need to study more horses, and horses moving at faster speeds. Additionally, future studies need to focus on the stresses sustained by the hind feet.
Although only the beginning, this research takes an important first step toward reducing the risk of foot injuries. Dr. Panagiotopolou says that future studies will help identify the most at-risk parts of horses' feet, and hopefully, improve the overall health and welfare of racehorses - and their non-racing counterparts.
You can read more about this research into foot stress in horses here.