Hoof Kinematics in Mild Lameness Diagnoses

You know that nagging feeling when your performance horse is just not quite right, yet you can’t pinpoint the problem zone? Here's some good news: By using hoof kinematics, researchers at the Gail Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University (CSU) are developing a technique to aid in the diagnosis of mild or subclinical lameness.

“Kinematics is a branch of biomechanics which describes the motion of an object; hoof kinematics describes the motion of the hoof during locomotion,” explained Valerie Moorman, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of CSU's Orthopaedic Research Center. “In this study, we looked at the linear motion of the hoof both forward/backward and up/down, as well as the forward/backward rotation of the hoof during motion. We examined horses at both the walk and trot and broke the stride into smaller components. Specifically, we looked at the hoof at landing, during breakover (when the foot goes from the stance to the swing phase), and during swing phase.”

In a gait-analysis laboratory, six clinically normal Quarter Horses walked and trotted over a rubber-matted asphalt runway while infrared cameras captured 3-D optical kinematic data. Researchers first viewed both forelimbs to establish a baseline. Then, the team viewed each horse as they underwent three grades of sole-pressure-induced lameness in the right forelimb and after administering a local nerve block to eliminate the lameness.

“We found significant differences in hoof motion at the most mild grade of lameness,” remarked Moorman. “By examining smaller components of the stride, we could detect changes to hoof motion both during stance and swing phases.

"None of the horses were visually lame at the walk during any part of the study," she continued. "However, we found differences in hoof motion at the walk even though we could not visually detect lameness.”

This study demonstrates that evaluating changes to hoof motion might be useful for diagnosing lameness and that this method can detect gait changes caused by even mild lameness.

“Future research involves the development of a motion-sensor system to mount on the hoof of the horse, which would allow analysis of hoof motion in a clinical setting,” noted Moorman. “As this study involved inducing lameness in horses, future research should also evaluate changes to hoof motion using horses with clinical lameness.”

Moorman's studies, “Effect of forelimb lameness on hoof kinematics of horses at a walk,” and “Effect of forelimb lameness on hoof kinematics of horses at a trot,” were published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.