Does it ever boil your bologna when a client asks why you did something a certain way, and you don’t have a scientific study to back up your reasoning? What if you could conduct the study and publish it for other farriers to read, review and use?
You can. The American Farrier’s Assn. (AFA) Research Committee was established exactly for those reasons. And you don’t have to be a white coat confined to a lab 18 hours a day to conduct research either. If you’re a farrier or other horse professional with a question or a nagging theory, the AFA wants you to propose a study for it, conducted by you.
But you won’t be alone. If you don’t already have an academic mentor, the AFA can assign one to you. Your mentor will help you not only craft an excellent grant proposal, but they will also help you throughout the research process if you’re selected for funding. In addition to your mentor, the AFA will be there for you every step of the way, even as you gather your thoughts to develop your initial research application.
AFA Research Committee: How it Began
The AFA has always believed in researching new equine studies to improve the health and well-being of horses. Prior to 2016, the AFA was granting money to the Morris Animal Foundation, according to Katie Panos, a member of the AFA Research Committee. They were funding equine studies; however, they were rarely related directly to the foot.
The AFA made a large change in how their money was invested in order to gain more interest, which can in turn grow the research they’ve been looking for. In 2017, changes were made, and Travis Burns, assistant professor of practice and chief of farrier services at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech University, was awarded the first grant in 2018.
Burns used his funding to research different patch qualities for quarter and toe crack repairs. Currently, he is working on the manuscript for publication and has already presented the work at the British Farriers and Blacksmith’s Assn.’s Farrier Focus in the UK.
2019 Grant Winners
When it comes to selecting your research topic, you don’t have to pick an overwhelming or largely encompassing project. Studies are needed in many farrier areas, including the small, daily tasks. The research topic can be relatively simple or more complex. That’s up to you to decide. Take a look below at what the 2019 grant winners are currently researching.
Copper Sulfate Under Plastic Pads
Byron, Mich., farrier and prospective veterinarian Scott Bushaw has chosen to study the effects of copper sulfate under plastic pads. Despite not having an extensive background in research, Bushaw is building a well-rounded project featuring eight horses and the bacteria that exists in their hooves.
First, the eight selected horses will undergo a 12-week washout period to allow their feet to return to a state with naturally occurring bacteria for their environment and living conditions. After, the area between the frog and the bars, or the commissures, of the left fore and left hind hooves will be swabbed for bacterial samples. After being swabbed, the left hooves will be shod with a plastic pad, dental impression material and copper sulfate. The same process will be applied to the right fore and right hind hooves; however, no copper sulfate will be applied beneath the plastic pad.
The bacterial samples will then be sent to the Iowa State University bacteriology lab for analysis. After 4 weeks, the horses will be swabbed again. Bushaw will remove the shoe and swab the hoof before it touches the ground.
With his experience as a farrier, Bushaw believes the copper sulfate will make a significant difference in the bacterial counts.
“When I pull a package that has been treated with copper sulfate and immediately after, pull one that has not been treated with copper sulfate, there is a marked difference in the smell alone,” Bushaw says. “This could be the proverbial canary in the mine, so to speak.”
Bushaw is not taking on this research project alone. He credits Doug Russo, resident farrier for the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Dane Tatarnuik, assistant professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Iowa State University, with assisting with the project. Russo has been helpful in developing the methods for the research, while Tatarnuik has been supportive in Bushaw’s understanding of statistical significance and how to calculate it.
Hoof Wall Growth in Relation to PA of P3
Nikki Smith of Wichita Falls, Texas is conducting a study on hoof wall growth in relation to palmar angle (PA) of the coffin bone (P3). She couldn’t be reached for comment at this time.
Goals of the AFA Research Committee
Panos and Russo worked together on hashing out the details of the Research Committee. They both had the same vision of getting farriers more involved in direct research. They wanted the donation money for research to be dedicated to the hoof directly.
Further, the AFA offers an annual clinic covering the scientific method, reading literature and the importance of statistics. This clinic is to provide farriers with background information that they might not have received, depending on their diverse backgrounds. This was introduced in hopes that farriers who are on the fence about research, or not ready to apply for their own grants, can learn even more about discerning data. The AFA is also available by phone or email for farriers seeking advisement on research matters.
The AFA Research Committee isn’t just for those seeking to carry out their own project. Panos emphasizes the need for people to read literature and discern data.
“Statistics inform us as to why our individual experiences and observations may not be significant for the whole population, which is often the disconnect in the Facebook comment sections,” says Panos. “You don’t need to carry out research to benefit from either of these areas, and farrier understanding of this material will help us communicate better with veterinarians and gain the respect of other industries.”
Panos also sees a lack in understanding of the research community as well. People assume research is only being done by industry representatives or veterinarians with a bias to prove. The problem may not be so much in the research itself, but in the fact that it isn’t peer reviewed.
“While industry may have bias and motives in their research, many of them will have an academic third-party lab verify their data,” Panos says.
The third-party can help remove bias through by blind-reading the submissions, then providing feedback and peer-editing. The paper is then revised and resubmitted before the panel will decide if it should be published.
Even after data has been verified, it can be hard wading through all the numbers and results. Panos suggests starting a journal club with a few other people. Before each meeting, a member can select a research paper and do a little more digging on it. They can bring their findings to discuss with the rest of the group who had read the paper beforehand, and this can help encourage understanding through discussion, working through the method, data and conclusions. The AFA Research Committee can even facilitate these groups.
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Researching the Equine Foot
How much research is being published each year that focuses on the equine foot? Given the importance and interest, one might believe that there’s quite a bit that’s being generated. Yet, that’s not necessarily accurate. The hoof-care industry is trying to change that. To better understand how research can benefit hoof care, American Farriers Journal has several tools available: Bringing the Hoof to Scientific Research, Groups Aim to Boost Hoof-Care Research, Farriers Research Every Day, Why Not Document it?
Application Process for 2020 Grants
The first step of the next application cycle begins Oct. 17, 2019. Farriers with an interest in research should contact the research committee soon, so the AFA can help set them up for success throughout the process. The committee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
Applicants are required to assemble:
- A résumé with their recent work experience.
- A cover letter.
- A “Specific Aims” page. This outlines any/all plans for research.
- A references page.
This shows the sources of information used to build the basis of the applicant’s research outline.
The research committee will then go through and provide feedback on each and every application. Afterward, the AFA will set each applicant up with an academic mentor if they don’t already have one.
Next, the applicant and assigned mentor will review the notes provided by the AFA before submitting a formal grant proposal on Jan. 18, 2020. These are then reviewed by two academics and a farrier who score the grant applications. Each application is scored and provided feedback; however, only the highest scoring grants are funded. One grant will be funded at $3,000, or two grants at $1,500 each, depending on the number of applicants and other variables.
The AFA Research Committee will conduct a roundtable session at a clinic hosted by the Association des Maréchaux-Ferrants du Québec to discuss statistics, data analysis, the scientific method and experiemental design. The clinic will be Oct. 18-20.