From a care­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a horse’s club foot came an award-win­ning so­lu­tion to the prob­lem that is still in use to­day.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Heather Smith Thomas

In­spi­ra­tion and in­no­va­tion

Not many peo­ple would look at a horse with a prob­lem­atic club foot and see that the so­lu­tion lay on the “good” side---but that very in­sight earned a Col­le­giate In­ven­tors Award from the Na­tional In­ven­tors Hall of Fame for Tia Nel­son, DVM, of He­lena, Mon­tana.

Nel­son was work­ing as a far­rier back in the 1980s when a friend bought a 4-year-old Thor­ough­bred geld­ing. “She didn’t rec­og­nize that he had a club foot un­til after she brought him home,” Nel­son says. “She wanted to use him for dres­sage, but his gait was not sym­met­ri­cal enough. He was never lame, but his stride was un­even. I worked with him and did ev­ery­thing I could think of, and read ev­ery­thing I could find about club-footed horses. We tried all kinds of things the first year.” But noth­ing helped.

Start­ing again the next spring, Nel­son de­cided they needed to find a new ap­proach: “I watched the horse walk, to make sure his feet were land­ing flat. I got up on the rafters in the barn so I could watch him walk­ing, from above, and see how his back moved,” she re­calls. “I spent time squat­ting on the ground in front of this horse watch­ing him walk to­ward me. I was not see­ing any­thing dif­fer­ent and won­der­ing what I could pos­si­bly do. I was look­ing at his feet, then my gaze drifted up his fet­locks to his can­non bones, to his knees, and all of a sud­den I re­al­ized they were un­even. I made sure he was stand­ing straight and his head was straight---be­cause if a horse’s head is tipped one way or another it changes the level of the knees.”

The horse was stand­ing per­fectly square, and yet the knee on the club­footed leg was about half an inch higher than the nor­mal knee. “I pointed this out to my client and told her I was go­ing to try some­thing dif­fer­ent and put a half-inch pad un­der the nor­mal foot,” says Nel­son. “It’s not a wedge pad, just a flat pad that is thick enough to bring the knee on the nor­mal leg to the same height as the other one.” The pad bal­anced out the horse’s two legs, evening out his stride so he moved sym­met­ri­cally. Nel­son’s client was able to ride him in dres­sage.

“I told another far­rier friend [Gene Ovnicek] about it, and he laughed, say­ing ‘Only a blonde would try to cor­rect the nor­mal foot,’” Nel­son says. “But he called me back two days later and told me I was right. He’d had a 15-year-old Ara­bian stal­lion come in with a club foot and he could see the dif­fer­ence in the knees. He put a pad un­der the nor­mal foot to bring the knees to the same height. The horse went from be­ing non­sym­met­ri­cal in his gait to be­ing bet­ter than he’d ever been.”

Soon after that, Nel­son de­cided to pur­sue her vet­eri­nary de­gree. “I was a pre-vet stu­dent at Mon­tana State Univer­sity at Boze­man, and was talk­ing to one of the teach­ers after a class and told him about the pad I’d used,” she says. He sug­gested that she en­ter the pad in the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion for young in­ven­tors. “My en­try was one of sev­eral hun­dred across the United States, with only three un­der­grad­u­ates and three grad stu­dents se­lected,” Nel­son says. Her prize-win­ning idea was fea­tured at the Na­tional In­ven­tors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

She has used her hoof pad on many horses since then. “It works, and I’ve rec­om­mended it to other far­ri­ers, and it works in their hands, as well,” Nel­son says. “This rem­edy is ba­si­cally for a horse who be­comes mod­er­ately club­footed as he is grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing or be­comes club-footed after he’s ma­ture. It’s not for the se­vere grade-4 horse, but it will work for most horses who just have an un­even gait.”

The horse was stand­ing per­fectly square, and yet the knee on the club-footed leg was about half an inch higher than the nor­mal knee.

PREPA­RA­TION: Tia Nel­son, DVM, worked as a far­rier prior to be­com­ing a vet­eri­nar­ian.

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