Q:What is your opinion on turning out horses wearing hind shoes in groups? A debate is raging at our boarding barn about whether this practice is safe. So far we haven’t had any serious injuries but we’re worried. If a horse with hind shoes kicks another horse, will he do more damage than if he was unshod?
Name withheld by request
A:While we would like to live in a world where horses live in harmony, the reality is that some horses (like some people) don’t always get along. Kicking is part of normal equine behavior and communication, but can be a very dangerous way to get a point across. In addition, excitement or exuberance may cause horses to kick out and sometimes unlucky herdmates get caught in the crossfire.
So how dangerous are kick injuries in horses? In one study of equine injuries, 256 horses sustained a kick injury and in 120 of those a bone was fractured. Among horses with fractures, 34 required euthanasia. In that study, most of the kick injuries occurred when the horses were on pasture.
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For your bookshelf:
• Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship
• Equine Behaviour in Mind: Applying Behavioural Science to the Way We Keep, Work and Care for Horses
• Horse Speak: An Equine-Human Translation Guide: Conversations with Horses in Their Language
As your boarding barn debate suggests, shoes are a factor in the severity of equine kick injuries. In a study that investigated the effects of simulated kicks on equine bones, researchers found a significant difference in the amount of damage caused by metal shoes versus polyurethane shoes.
Click here to learn why horses kick.
At a medium velocity, impact by hooves with steel and aluminum shoes resulted in fractures 75 percent of the time or more, while impact by hooves wearing polyurethane shoes or that were unshod did not damage the bones. At a higher velocity, impact by unshod hooves resulted in fractures only 12.5 percent of the time.
So a kick from a horse wearing shoes definitely causes more injury than one from an unshod horse or one wearing polyurethane shoes. And, of course, a stable pasture grouping with a firmly established dominance hierarchy is the safest situation for horses in pasture turnout in general.
Olivia Schroeder, VMD
Black Diamond, Washington
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