Relationships between exercise capacity and front hoof longitudinal balance in horses

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To the authors' knowledge, the effect of hoof balance alteration on exercise capacity or performance has not been investigated. With the aim of evaluating the relationships between longitudinal front hoof balance and exercise capacity (lactate vs. speed relationship, run time and stride characteristics), two experiments were undertaken. In the first test the horses, left unshod, performed an incremental speed test in which parameters chosen to evaluate exercise capacity were related to hoof longitudinal balance. In the second part of the study the same group of horses had the length of the toe altered (decreased and increased) with the application of shoes, while the angle of the foot and the height of the foot from the ground remained the same. The relative change in exercise capacity due to the alteration of longitudinal balance was observed. In the unshod experiment, lactate level at the speed of 10 m s−1 (5.0±2.0 mmol l−1) was significantly associated with the angles DC° (angle described by the dorsal cortex with respect to the ground; 50.0±3.2°) and PC° (angle described by the palmar cortex with respect to the ground; 29.6±2.9°), while run time (14.07±1.44 min) was associated with breakover indices (Breakover index1 0.33±0.03; Breakover index2 0.30±0.04 – all values mean±standard deviation (SD)) (breakover indices were created to express the distance between the point of the toe and the point of the third phalanx relative to the length of the palmar cortex or relative to the distance between the point of the third phalanx and the centre of rotation of the distal interphalangeal joint). These associations have to be judged cautiously because the influence of hoof balance on exercise capacity could be biased by other physiological factors and because hoof balance parameters themselves could reflect the conformation of other anatomical structures far from the phalanges. The selective alteration of front hoof balance in the second part of the study produced a significant difference in blood lactate level only at 6 m s−1 (mean±SD: La6 m s−1 0.32±0.39 mmol l−1), with this benefit in terms of lactate level being associated with an increase in stride length (mean±SD: ΔSL6 m s−1 0.01±0.05 m; ΔSL10 m s−1 0.112±0.218 m). In conclusion, while higher exercise capacity seemed to be associated with lower DC°, PC° and breakover indices, decreasing the toe length without altering the foot angle was beneficial only in terms of lactate level at the speed of 6 m s−1 for horses with DC° greater than 45°; this benefit was accompanied by a slight lengthening of the stride at both 6 and 10 m s−1.

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