Laura Corbin gave the British Horse Society undergraduate presentation to the National Equine Forum. Miss Corbin, who studied at Warwickshire College, was the winner of the Eqvalan Duo Equine Thesis of the Year. Her topic was Foot balance and lameness in riding school horses.
One aim of her study was to develop a quantitative definition of foot balance based on direct measurements of the foot such that multiple horses could be assessed by the same criteria using a repeatable and reliable method.
In addition the method developed was to be used to investigate the relationship between foot balance and lameness in riding school horses.
A scoring system was devised for assessing foot balance and was based on the presence or absence of six abnormalities of the foot described in the literature as being indicative of poor foot balance. Definitions of the abnormalities used were those presented by Turner (1992, 1996).
A total of 81 riding school horses were recruited from two populations and foot imbalance scores calculated. Horses were also categorised according to their recent lameness histories.
Results showed that lame and chronically lame horses tended to have significantly worse foot balance (according to the specific criteria used in this study) than non-lame horses.
There was, however, no evidence of a difference in mean hoof angle between horses in the different lameness categories (as previously observed in racehorses).
There was no difference in foot imbalance scores of horses in the two populations and none of the horses were without any of the abnormalities considered (i.e. an imbalance score of zero).
A majority of the abnormalities occurred more frequently in lame horses than in non-lame horses, cases of sheared heels in particular appeared to be over-represented in the lame groups.
Maintaining good foot balance
The results of this study emphasise the importance of maintaining good foot balance in order to prevent lameness in riding school horses.
Ensuring horses have good foot balance could reduce the incidence of lameness resulting in increased welfare and decreased costs, particularly in the case of chronic conditions such as navicular syndrome.
Turner and Stork (1988) concluded that hoof abnormalities should be corrected whenever encountered in order to decrease the chances of future lameness and whilst this study supports these views, it is important to acknowledge the fact that correcting poor foot balance is rarely straight forward.
Curtis (1999) points out that while a large proportion of lamenesses seen could be avoided or treated by simple compliance with the rules governing foot balance, it must be borne in mind that many hoof balance problems are caused by poor leg conformation.
With many conformational problems being insurmountable (Curtis 1999) it is important that horses are carefully selected in terms of their conformation.
There is considerable scope for more research to be conducted in the area of foot balance in riding school horses. Potentially the most useful follow-up study would be a prospective study which would enable considerably more information to be collected regarding the incidences of lameness suffered by subjects; collaborative work with farriers might be most productive.