From The Ground Up Elevates Understanding of the Foot, Footing and Their Crucial Interaction

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IGNITE’s From The Ground Up gathering lived up to its name during two days of presentations and wet lab learnings in Salado, Texas, April 26-27.

Seventy-five people dove deep on what happens when the hoof hits the ground. They presented research, studied and debated everything related to how that impact affects the biomechanics of equine locomotion. Proactively managing the ground and the hoof to balance injury risk with performance engaged all in lively, constructive discussions.

Hosted by the Bravos Valley Equine Hospital in Salado, the unique event bought diverse expertise together and drew attendees from throughout North America and Europe.

Video recordings of all sessions will be available online to IGNITE members.

Highest Caliber Learning

Brazos Valley’s Beau Whitaker, DVM, is a long-time member of IGNITE, dating back to its origins as the Equine High-Performance Sports Group. A main benefit of membership and participation is “the caliber of people involved,” he noted.  “Being associated with and learning from people like this makes you better.”

The conference’s inclusion of in-depth information on footing was especially enlightening, Whitaker said at the conference’s close. “I don’t think I appreciated how much science goes into footing, the different layers and the factors that play into that. It helps me look at the places and surfaces where horses I treat compete and train. I can factor that in if I’m seeing injuries and how they might relate to the footing. It’s given me a better understanding of what’s going on in the ground.”

The presenters and preparation for one of the first day’s 8 lectures illustrate the caliber of expertise Whitaker references.  For a talk titled “Measurable Parameters for Footing and How Footing Relates to Injuries,” three presenters spent two days measuring the arena surfaces at various western performance venues and private facilities in the area.

The trio consisted of Swedish Agricultural University professor Lars Roepstorff DVM PhD, who consults on footing at the highest levels of equestrian sport; Texas-based footing expert Jim Kiser; and Mick Peterson, the engineer who designed the Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester, aka “the robot hoof.”

Developed initially for the Thoroughbred racing industry, the OBOS enables measurement of footing’s characteristics. In layman’s terms, these parameters define how the footing feels to the horse when they land, push-off and turn.

Given the differences in horse and human weight and biomechanics, OBOS measurements are lightyears better than a boot heel dug into the dirt for gauging how the horse will respond, Roepstorff noted.

Room For Improvement

In discussing their findings, Kiser noted the “tremendous amount of room for footing improvements” in most of the western performance disciplines, especially cutting and barrel racing. The experts shed light on the considerable extra challenges of creating appropriate riding surfaces for horses that move in unpredictable patterns – like ranch sorting or cutting.

This subject arose again during wet labs when farrier Kyle Kukla and veterinarian/farrier Mark Silverman, MS, DVM, discussed the different forces that come into play caring for horses in different disciplines. Kukla primarily cares for western performance horses and Silverman works mainly with dressage and jumping horses.

Footing’s five functional properties – firmness, cushioning, responsiveness, grip and uniformity – are radically different for the cutting horse containing an unpredictable cow and the dressage horse working in set patterns. Kukla and Silverman also trim and shoe horses with different career lifespans – peaking at 4, 5, and 6 in many western performance sports, versus well into their teens in Olympic disciplines.

Cutting-edge technology was used and examined throughout the conference. Renowned radiologist Kurt Selberg, DVM, DACVR, led discussions and demonstrations on the use, positioning and interpretation of x-rays, nerve blocks and ultrasound diagnostics. The Swedish Agricultural University’s Elin Hernlund, DVM, PhD, DECVSMR, explained the latest in motion capture technology and artificial intelligence in gait analysis, including its responsible use.

In each mention of latest technologies, however, the modalities were presented as complements to observation, feel and experience – never as a replacement. The equal value of technology and horsemanship was repeatedly emphasized.

Above all, conference speakers and attendees stressed the value of taking a team approach to sport horse’s injury prevention, longevity and performance – which is IGNITE’s mission in a nutshell.

“Spirit Of Community”

 The team approach is one that attendee and veteran Texas farrier Donnie Walker has long embraced.

“I knew I had to go when I saw the agenda,” shared the American Farrier Assn. Certified Journeyman Farrier. “There’s no way I could not go!”

From The Ground Up exceeded his expectations. Specializing in western performance horse hoof care, Walker has long promoted the importance of veterinarian-farrier relationships.

Tangible takeaways included actionable knowledge about interpreting ultrasound images. “At Kurt’s (Selberg) talk, I learned so much about what a healthy suspensory ligament looks like.”

The next week in practice, while reviewing a case with event speaker David Dutton, DVM, DACVS, Walker looked at the patient’s ultrasound images and “they made sense to me,” he said. “It’s so important that IGNITE keep offering these kinds of opportunities.”

Students benefited, too. “This is super useful,” said Sarah Cate Hyde, one of several Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine students to participate. “Getting to learn all these intricacies of equine podiatry is really interesting and I’m grateful that we’ve been allowed to come as students.”

Ceiridwen Terrill, PhD, is not a farrier, veterinarian or footing expert. The Portland, OR-based physiotherapist joined IGNITE and attended From The Ground Up to expand her tool kit in caring for horses.

“The theme of collaboration and knowledge sharing was refreshing and exceeded my expectations,” she said. “It is this spirit of community that will elevate equine sports to excellence and better serve both horses and the humans that love them.

“As a sports therapist and rider, I’m thrilled to be part of IGNITE!”

The From The Ground Up videos on add to 150-hours of educational content available to IGNITE members.  With membership comprised of everyone from veterinarians and physios to riders, coaches and owners, IGNITE offers membership levels suited for all.

IGNITE’s Foundation Partners, Boehringer Ingelheim and Hilltop Bio, were key to the success of this event.  From The Ground Up’s sponsors also made the gathering possible. They are Arthramidvet, Sound powered by Antech, Adequan, Twin Shoes, Sleip, Dechra, Alpha2EQ, Soft-Ride, Platinum Performance and PulseVet.

IGNITE is a platform for advancing leading-edge knowledge, evidence-based approaches and collaborative, proactive practices focused on injury prevention, peak performance and longevity for equine athletes. The resulting information is available to a membership community comprised of veterinarians, physios, farriers and other equine health care providers, plus riders, coaches, trainers and other sport stakeholders.

Various levels of IGNITE membership offer options suited to the interests of its diverse, global membership.  Learn more and join the community at

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PR: Kim F Miller

Photos available on request