Improving the foot health of the domestic horse

The University of Queensland

  • Project code: PRJ-002510

  • Project stage: Closed

  • Project start date: Monday, December 7, 2009

  • Project completion date: Friday, September 30, 2011

  • National Priority: HOR-Thoroughbred diseases and parasites


Hypothesis: That the health of the domestically managed horse’s foot can be improved using knowledge gained by studying the foot morphology, biomechanics and pathology of the feral horse’s foot. The mistakes made in the foot care of managed horses will be identified and strategies to rectify the errors will be formulated.

Feet from feral horses in New Zealand, Central, Western and Northern Queensland and Northern Territory will be analyzed in vitro to determine the influence of climate, terrain, nutrition and distance travelled. The DNA in hair samples will be analyzed for common genetic traits to identify the breed characteristics of each population. Additionally, horses from Central Queensland and the Northern Territory will be captured, tamed and used for in vivo biomechanical studies of foot loading patterns. Feral horses from soft and hard substrate areas will be captured and swapped between environments to assess the impact of the alternative substrate on the foot. Feral horses, in all areas except New Zealand, will be monitored using GPS tracking devices to determine daily mileage and range. The effect of substrate type on hoof growth rates will be determined for the duration of the GPS tracking. Managed horses housed in typical domestic situations will be GPS tracked to determine activity levels and compared to feral horses. Nutritional analysis of stomach contents will determine the nutritional value of food selected by each group of horses. All in vivo and in vitro variables will be measured in managed Thoroughbred horses to determine differences between the managed and feral populations.


Thoroughbred Horses

Research Organisation

The University of Queensland

Objective Summary

The primary objective is to gain new insights and a better understanding of the natural structure and function of the horses foot and how this is affected by domestication. Farriery and husbandry practices have impacted so heavily on the horse that it is now unclear what the natural foot should look like. For example, farriery and veterinary sources stipulate that the hoof should be symmetrical for proper injury-free function. Preliminary observation of the wild horse hoof however indicates a consistent lack of symmetry. Kane, et al (1998) discovered a link between hoof size, shape and balance and report foot symmetry a risk factor for catastrophic injury in Thoroughbred race horses. The aim of the proposed study is to redefine what a “normal” foot is and determine whether the horse with a natural (feral) foot is subject to the same injuries and pathologies as the domestic horse. The ultimate objective then, is to significantly reduce the injury rate of the domestic horse by applying principles derived from wild horse foot studies.

A further objective is to identify what practices produce these differences and relate variations to activity levels, husbandry and farriery practices. Errors in modern equine foot care will be identified. The aim is to identify and describe the shape, dimensions and care of the foot which is ideally suited to the requirements of the modern horse in a variety of sporting and recreational pursuits.

The final objective is to present the research findings in various forms of complexity to allow dissemination of the information to the scientific community, veterinary and farriery professions, industry bodies and to horse owners and horse husbandry providers. It is envisaged that this objective will be accomplished through scientific conference presentation and publication, lecture tour and development of written and electronic media resources.