Slip & Grip — It Is A Fine Line

Understanding how shoe material affects slip and grip influences how much traction a horse needs.

Even while treading on steady ground, horses slip slightly during their footfall pattern, but it’s not always dangerous. Known as a microslip, this act dissipates energy in the foot. However, making even minute changes to the horse’s shoes can have a big impact on the animal’s overall performance and long-term soundness. Consider the pros and cons of adding traction devices to shoes before applying them to avoid detrimental results for the horse.

Chris Pardoe, a British farrier and Ph.D., shared his research at the 2014 International Hoof-Care Summit.

Tradition Isn’t Always Best

Farriers have a long history of adding gripping materials to the shoes of working horses or high-level athletes of certain disciplines. Like other farriers, Pardoe has seen good examples of traction devices from the past, but he’s also seen some dangerous materials, like shoes with far too severe of traction added.

Pardoe believes that scientific methods are important in horseshoeing, and farriers contribute by applying their craft.

“We’re all empirical scientists,” Pardoe says. “Every day we go out, make an evaluation and we look at the data. We make adjustments accordingly.”

The horse’s natural grip on the ground follows the laws of physics. Pardoe says the horse steps forward on the ground with little weight on the hoof. Using force plate data, Pardoe notes how as a horse moves its weight on top of its leg, the fetlock joint stabilizes the leg. Once the hoof is loaded and the leg is vertical, the reaction force of the ground…

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Abigail Boatwright

Abigail Boatwright is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer from Fort Worth, Texas.

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