The researchers seek to replicate synthetic and dirt racetrack surfaces in a laboratory setting. Successful validation of the laboratory "track in a box" will enable the study of factors that affect hoof impact and, thus, propensity for injury, on racetrack surfaces in a carefully controlled environment.
The track in a box is designed to gather data from simulated hoof impacts on different surface materials. Subsequently, hoof impact data will be used in a computer model of the equine forelimb to predict fetlock joint angle and suspensory ligament and digital flexor tendon strains with different race surface properties.
"We believe that, eventually, standard mechanical properties can be determined, and racetrack surface manufacturers can engineer surface materials that will minimize fetlock injuries in racehorses," said Stover.
The model and simulation can be used to determine these optimal, standard mechanical properties. "Conducting this research in a laboratory setting can simulate an infinite number of race surfaces without having to build and test entire new racecourses," Stover explained.
Additionally, the computer model can allow for testing of extremes, which would not be appropriate if actual horses were being used.
In reference to how this project interfaces with existing science and other recently launched efforts funded by industry organizations, Stover stressed, "This laboratory study complements the efforts of Drs. Mick Peterson and C. Wayne McIlwraith, who are conducting composition analysis and performance testing of existing race surfaces to promote consistency and reduce injury rates. These efforts are important for direct feedback to racetrack management teams, but are limited to existing race surfaces under varying environmental conditions.
"In the laboratory, many new factors--for example, new surfaces and horseshoes--can be studied that optimize traction while reducing injury risk," she continued. "Laboratory studies also control the environmental circumstances, thus avoiding the confounding of the results incurred by the multiple environmental variants in natural racetrack settings."
Edward L. Bowen, president of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, said, "Our board of directors was enthusiastic when Dr. Larry Bramlage, then head of our Research Advisory Committee, explained the potential of this project. The board authorized us to seek funds specifically for Dr. Stover's team's imaginative idea. I am grateful that a donor has stepped up with an anonymous contribution to support this project."
The recently launched project is being added to the 17 others that the foundation earlier announced it would be funding in 2009. The total allocation for all 18 will be $924,894 this year.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.