Members of the Royal Veterinary College’s Structure and Motion Groups recently published an editorial in the Equine Veterinary Journal on the need for more scientific farriery research.

The researchers note that evidence-based veterinary research has made great advances throughout the years, but evidence-based farriery research lags behind and is based mostly on “historical anecdotes.”

The editorial lays out several reason why there is a lack of farriery research.

First, there are several technical challenges that limit research.

“Interventional studies where one farriery method is compared against another involve the repeat application and removal of shoes that may compromise hoof wall integrity, and also require the recruitment of a suitable number of horses for a robust estimation of small effects,” the editorial says.

Additionally, the condition of a horse’s hoof can also be altered from a variety of external factors in addition to disease, such as time of the year, weather, etc. This can make long-term studies investigating a certain disease or condition difficult.

Second, the research required often involves quantifying small changes in kinetics, kinematics and tissue deformation, which involves a great deal of engineering and computer science; skills that go above most farriers and veterinarians. It can then be difficult to coordinate a collaboration between farriers, veterinarians and engineers due to logistics and finances.

Lastly, funding in general for farriery studies is limited. This could be due to the fact that many hoof-care issues have a low mortality.  

While evidence-based veterinary research has made progress over the years, overall, there has not been similar advances in farriery.

Laminitis, one of the most common diseases that affects equine hoof-care, has been researched the most and great advances have been made in understanding the disease and how to treat and prevent it.

However, there is still a lack of evidence for farriery management of horses with laminitis.

“Since laminitis is such a prevalent and detrimental disease, and farriery is an integral part to its management, it would seem prudent to collect more scientific evidence to base this on,” the researchers say.

There is also a lack of farriery research on other conditions, such as palmar heel pain, or navicular syndrome.

Veterinary research has seen advancements in imaging techniques that are used to help diagnose palmar heel pain, yet there have not been equal evidence based advancements in farriery. Different shoeing techniques to relieve palmar heel pain have been suggested, but there is little evidence as to what techniques or methods are most beneficial.

Additionally, some conventional wisdom from farriers contrasts with what research studies have found. One study found that in adult horses, foot placement varies greatly and that dorsal and palmar hoof angles are associated with an increased lateral toe landing. This conflicts with the common belief that farriers should aim to create a flat landing.

It is important for evidence-based research to be further developed and accessible for farriers because they routinely see the horse and can be the first to notice when a problem might be arising, unlike vets who typically only see the horse after something is wrong.

As of now, there is only a small amount of farriers who have published scientific research and many farriers do not have the opportunity or resources to conduct research.

However, there has been a shift in recognizing the need and importance of scientific farriery research. The Worshipful Company of Farriers requires Fellowship candidates to complete a thesis, and many universities, such as Myerscough College and the Royal Veterinary College, have begun including research courses in their farriery programs.

In essence, the editorial stresses that it is crucial for farriers, veterinarians and engineers to collaborate in order to increase the scientific evidence behind farriery. Their different expertise will allow for more comprehensive research that will greatly benefit equine health as a whole.

Read the full editorial here.