A British study found that the performance of a dressage horse is unlikely to be affected by being either shod or unshod.
The finding is in contrast to the widely held belief that shoeing improves gait quality.
Warwickshire College researchers Richard Mott and Julie Ellis, who presented their findings at the recent International Society for Equitation Science Conference in Denmark, said current literature showed that shoeing improved gait quality, but at the risk of increasing concussion to the limbs.
“To make an informed decision on whether to shoe or not, it is important to quantify if the benefit is worth the risk,” the pair reported to delegates.
They said their study was the first to compare the kinematics of horses that had been conditioned to being either shod or unshod for at least the previous 12 months, thereby looking at the practical implications for performance.
The highly significant increases in joint flexion associated with being shod seen in previous studies using non-conditioned horses could not be replicated, they said.
Twenty adult Irish Sport Horses used for a range of activities from general riding up to novice dressage were used in their study. Half were shod and the other half unshod.
Each was recorded using a high-speed video camera in trot in hand on a non-waxed fibre/sand arena. They were then compared using the Kinovea gait analysis software package.
The differences between the two conditions were assessed against five previously determined kinematic criteria for gait quality – stride duration, fetlock extension, scapular rotation, elbow flexion and carpal flexion.
Additional stride parameters of speed, stride length, maximum hoof vertical displacement and swing duration were also compared using the software.
They found that although there was a general trend towards greater joint flexion in the shod horses, the only highly significant differences were carpal flexion and maximum hoof vertical displacement.
The key dressage performance-related indicators of stride duration, fetlock extension, scapular rotation and elbow flexion showed no significant differences according to foot treatment.
Stride length was significantly reduced with the shod sample.
It was postulated that horses become habituated to the additional weight of shoes which, over time, reduces the initial effects that previous studies have recorded within 1-3 days of being shod for the first time.
“Having worn shoes for at least 12 months, shod horses did not display a significant difference in four of the five kinematic variables that correlate best with dressage marks and were therefore viewed as not having a competitive advantage when compared to their unshod counterparts,” they told delegates.