Copper may help hoof health; investigating the effectiveness of ice boots
For thousands of years, humans have believed in the benefits of copper. The advantages aren’t just ancient legend: Science has proven that copper can kill bacteria and other harmful microbes by contact. Pair this thought with the fact that the use of nails in horseshoeing can lead to microbial invasion that causes damage to the hoof wall—and suddenly people are interested in (and some farriers are using) copper-coated horseshoe nails.
Since there is little proof that these nails help prevent bacterial infection, two farriers in Queensland, Australia, set out to test the theory. Specifically, Brian Hampson, PhD, of Sunshine Coast Podiatry Services, and John Wilson wanted to see if using copper-coated nails would benefit nail-hole health compared to traditional steel nails. The farriers selected 11 active sporthorses for their study. During the trial’s first phase, each horse was trimmed and shod twice, six weeks apart, with copper-coated steel nails in the left front and standard steel nails in the right front. Six of the horses were given a 12-week layoff before entering stage two, where the test and control were swapped: Copper-coated nails were used in the right front, with plain steel used in the left front. This eliminated any bias that could have been caused by always using the same hooves for testing and control.
Before re-shoeing, the sole of each front foot was photographed. The farriers used an existing 10-point pathology scale to evaluate discoloration and decay—indicators of poor nail-hole health. For both phases of the study, the control holes—where steel nails were used—had higher pathology scores, indicating poorer hoof health, than the test holes. In other words, the tissue near where the copper-coated nails had been inserted was notably healthier than where steel nails were used.
Dr. Hampson and Wilson concluded that the copper coating contributed to an antibacterial effect, helping the hoof wall to remain healthy. But they cautioned that the study specifically used steel shoes and that using copper-coated nails with aluminum shoes may actually lead to hoof damage. The farriers noted that hoof-wall health depends on other factors beyond the type of nails used.
Proving the Effectiveness of Ice Boots
It’s no secret that we put serious stress on our performance horses, particularly the soft tissues in their lower legs. Many owners choose to ice the limbs after a strenuous workout to prevent or reduce heat and swelling. Various forms of ice boots are on the market to make the task easier. But there’s been limited research on how effectively these products cool horse legs. Researchers from California Polytechnic State University set out to find answers. The team was led by Matthew A. Burd, DVM, MS, head of the school’s equine reproductive physiology unit.
The team put together a group of six healthy sporthorses, aged 4 to 19 years, for the study. Initially, recordings were taken of each front cannon bone using a thermal imaging camera that incorporated temperature measurement. The horses were then longed at the walk, trot and canter. Additional thermal images were taken before an ice boot was applied to one foreleg of each horse. The other foreleg was left bare, allowing each horse to act as both a test and control. All horses wore the same type of ice boot, which consisted of a neoprene exterior that insulated frozen gel pockets.
The boots were left in place for 20 minutes while the horses stood cross-tied on rubber mats. Once the boots were removed, a third set of thermal images were taken, with images recorded every two minutes until the temperature difference between the test and control legs was zero.
The researchers used analysis software to evaluate the thermal images in order to gauge average surface temperature of the cannon bone at each measurement time for the test and control limbs. On average, the legs wearing ice boots were more than 43 degrees cooler than the non-iced legs immediately following the 20-minute treatment period. The effect lasted for a short time after removal of the boot, with the test leg taking an average of roughly 14 minutes to return to the temperature of the control leg.
The researchers concluded that this style of ice boot is effective in cooling the surface temperature of a horse’s leg and, by extension, the temperature of the underlying soft tissues. Thus, ice boots can be viewed as a useful method for controlling heat and inflammation. The researchers added that additional studies would be useful to compare this style of ice boot to other forms of cold therapy.— Sushil Dulai Wenholz
Copper-coated nails could have an antibacterial effect on a horse’s hoof wall.