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Unshod Horses Inflict Less Damage When Kicking Horses, HumansBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 12, 2017

If there was actually a way to make being kicked by a horse a more pleasant experience, then recent research* suggests that leaving horses unshod causes less damage than horses with aluminum or steel shoes. No surprise, right?

“Kicks by other horses remain the leading cause of fractures to long bones, such as the tibia and radius,” shared Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., of Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Kicks are also to blame for orbital fractures, coronary band wounds, and hematomas.

“Contributing factors to horse kicks include aggression between horses in a herd situation to maintain or improve pecking order and overstocking,” shared Whitehouse.

For example, in regions of the world where land for livestock is at a premium, horses are maintained in group-housing situations, and active programs to minimize injuries due to kicks must be implemented. One such strategy involves avoiding steel and aluminum shoes and leaving horses unshod or protecting the hoof with softer materials, such as polyurethane.

To determine whether this strategy was effective, researchers created a kick simulator and tested steel, aluminum, and polyurethane shoes as well as unshod hooves on fracture rates of radial and tibial bones. As expected, they found that steel and aluminum both caused more fractures at lower kick rates—how fast the horse kicks—compared to both polyurethane and unshod hooves.

“The basis of farriery revolves around hoof health. A farrier can tell horse owners what is best for their horses in terms of shoes and other appliances based on a horse’s conformation, workload, and other factors. Aside from regular, competent farriery, nutrition also plays a vital part in the maintenance of high-quality hooves,” Whitehouse said.

“To maximize your horse’s hoof health, supplement with nutrients that promote the production and growth of hoof tissue,” she continued. “Look for high-quality products like Bio•Bloom PS containing biotin, methionine, iodine, and chelated zinc. Bio•Bloom PS also includes lecithin and essential fatty acids from full-fat soybean, ingredients that are necessary for production of resilient hoof horn and shiny coats.”

Australian horse owners should look for these research-proven products.

*Sprick, M., A. Fürst, F. Baschnagel, et al. 2017. The influence of aluminium, steel and polyurethane shoeing systems and of the unshod hoof on the injury risk of a horse kick. An ex vivo experimental study. Veterinary and Comparative Orthopedics and Traumatology. 30(5).