3D printed horseshoes
As a young horse, Hera had been an easy-going, friendly mare. And while she’d never be considered a ‘big mover’, she was quick to learn and eager to work and won her first few shows with ease.
But after a couple of years under saddle, she became increasingly difficult to ride. On some days, she’d be incredibly sharp and quick to react, while on others, she’d barely respond at all. In trot, her strides were short and choppy, while in canter she found it difficult to maintain her balance.
Hera was checked out by several equine professionals, but none of them were able to find anything conclusive. Eventually, her owner decided to give Hera a break from it all. Take off her shoes, let her grow a winter coat, and turn her out into the field. It sounded like the most sensible option for a young horse…
But far from improving, Hera’s health deteriorated even further. She lost weight, became withdrawn, and developed spontaneous stringhalt in both hind legs.
So Hera was taken to the Academic Veterinary Hospital for Horses at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. The veterinarians there soon determined that Hera was slightly but definitely lame on both front legs. X-rays of her feet revealed that she suffered from uneven feet and very thin soles.
Based on Hera’s x-rays, in-house farrier Jan de Zwaan was able to come up with horseshoes that corrected the asymmetry of the feet while also providing extra cushioning for the sole. Just like a custom-made running shoe for human athletes…
Hera’s lameness disappeared almost overnight. Within a few short weeks she started to move with more balance and impulsion, gained weight and, most importantly, turned back into the friendly, curious horse she’d once been.
Unfortunately, not every horse is as lucky as Hera…
Even though there’s been considerable progress in the field of traditional farriery, it isn’t always possible to provide every horse with the right kind of shoes – yet…
That’s why Jan de Zwaan and his colleagues want to investigate whether 3D printed horseshoes might provide a solution for horses with hoof-related problems.
"No foot, no horse"
The expression "no foot, no horse" says it all. Healthy feet are essential for any horse, for its well-being and its health, both in the short- and the long term.
For horses with one or more orthopedic abnormalities in the musculoskeletal system, a horseshoe that is made-to-measure is of the uitmost importance. Even the smallest of deviation in the position of the hoof can lead to lameness or other disorders of the musculoskeletal system and will almost always lead to pain and decreased levels of welfare. In the most extreme cases the horse might even have to be put down.
Although there is continuous progress in the field of the traditional farrier, it isn't always possible to provide the horse with the right kind of shoes, either because traditional methods of farriery aren't exacting enough, or because the horn of the hoof is too fragile to handle being shod.
The 3D printed horseshoe
Jan de Zwaan and Gerben Bronkhorst, both farriers at the Academic Veterinary Hospital for Horses have come up with the idea of developing a 3D printed horseshoe. Their hypothesis is that during the design phase on the computer, the various orthopedic and/or therapeutic adjustments to a horseshoe can be applied with great precision - resulting in a horseshoe that is custom-made and as individual as the horse itself. As such, a 3D printed horseshoe may add real value to the welfare of the horse.
The aim of this project is therefore to explore whether 3D printing technology can have added value to horses in need of therapeutic and/or orthopedic shoeing.
The set-up of the study
Jan and Gerben recently developed a suitable prototype (see the images below), which they now hope to develop even further in order to test on six different horses. Such a set-up would allow them to draw the first statistically relevant conclusions.
In order to develop a 3D prnted horseshoe, the hoof must first be trimmed, then scanned by a 3D camera. The shape and dimensions of the hoof are then entered into the computer, and any desired orthopedic and/or therapeutic features are added using a specialised software program.
In a next step, the computer file will be sent by e-mail to the 3D printing company, and the horseshoes will be ready to be picked up the following day.
In order to measure the effect of the 3D printed horseshoe objectively, Jan and Gerben will use state-of-the-art movement analysis systems to monitor the horses' stance and movement patterns prior to and following the shoeing.
Help us to develop 3D printed horseshoes
We think that 3D printed horseshoes might have real potential to influence the welfare of our horses for the better. But their development will cost time, effort and, of course, money.
To help more horses, we really need your help!
With your support Jan and his colleagues will be able to take this important step towards more horse welfare.