This study is the first part of work developed by Dr Hobbs at UCLan, Dr Back and his students from Utrecht University and Dr Nauwelaerts from the University of Antwerp investigating altered force and movement patterns between left and right limbs in horses with uneven feet.
Left-right symmetrical distal limb conformation can be an important prerequisite for a successful performance, and it is often hypothesized that asymmetric or uneven feet are important enhancing factors for the development of lameness. On a population level, it has been demonstrated that uneven footed horses are retiring earlier from elite level competition, but the biomechanical consequences are not yet known.
The objectives of this study were to compare the functional locomotor asymmetries of horses with uneven to those with even feet.
Hoof kinetics and distal limb kinematics were collected from horses (n = 34) at trot. Dorsal hoof wall angle was used to classify horses as even or uneven (<1.5 and >1.5° difference between forefeet respectively) and individual feet as flat (<50°), medium (between 50° and 55°) or upright (>55°). Functional kinetic parameters were compared between even and uneven forefeet using MANOVA followed by ANOVA. The relative influences of differences in hoof angle between the forefeet and of absolute hoof angle on functional parameters were analysed using multiple regression analysis (P<0.05).
In horses with uneven feet, the side with the flatter foot showed a significantly larger maximal horizontal braking and vertical ground reaction force, a larger vertical fetlock displacement and a suppler fetlock spring. The foot with a steeper hoof angle was linearly correlated with an earlier braking-propulsion transition.
The conformational differences between both forefeet were more important for loading characteristics than the individual foot conformation of each individual horse. The differences in vertical force and braking force between uneven forefeet could imply either an asymmetrical loading pattern without a pathological component or a subclinical lameness as a result of a pathological development in the steeper foot.