Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ski Joring Dangers (part 1)

Ski joring is risky for the human and horse alike. For humans, ski joring, like any other horse sport, has the same inherent dangers associated with horses. Risks include being kicked, or dragged. It is also inherently risky for people as it involves the dangers of skiing and snow sports as well. Skis get can get caught and cause nasty falls or ligament tears. However, it is just as risky for horses.

There are a many areas of risk for the horse, but here, I'd like to highlight one particular area, the risk involving the horse's hooves.

An article by Christy West Link on the intricacies of the horse's hoof encourages consideration for how the horse's hooves are effected in any circumstance. Considering the extremeness of racing in snow, her article is even more poignant. She says, "Knowing how the hoof is built and what it is capable of can help you understand what it needs to stay healthy and recover if compromised."

Hoof with no traction devices.
When the horse is cantering, racing, or let out at top speed, he places all of his weight on his hooves with great impact. In West's article, Andrew Parks, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, professor of the Department of Large Animal Medicine at the University of Georgia comments, "It's impressive that a running thoroughbred racehorse can put more than twice his weight on a hoof that's only 5 inches in diameter."When ski-joring, the horse is racing over frozen ground covered with deep snow. In an e-mail interview, farrier Jim Duncan points out, "Racing on snow is risky business for the rider as well as the horse, regardless of the fun involved."

In the anatomy of the hoof, behind the hoof wall are layers of laminae. These layers attach the hoof to the bone. "This attachment is unbelievably strong when healthy, suspending the coffin bone and thereby the horse's weight even with about 2,000 pounds of force landing on each forefoot during a running stride," said West. "However, the laminae can become weakened by repetitive injury or disease, leading to the inflammation, pain, and potential coffin bone instability with laminitis." This needs to be considered by owners racing their horses over frozen, snow-covered ground. Duncan says, "I think running a horse on frozen ground is akin to racing on blacktop or concrete, all three have the same effect."

Another matter for consideration is the traction the horse will have while racing in the snow.  Farrier Mitch Taylor from the Kentucky Horseshoeing School says, "The important thing is traction, so that the horse does not fall down; so he doesn't slip and cut himself or cut the horses he racing against."

The Horse World link, A publication of Kentucky Equine Research, Inc, suggests that, "screw-in studs or borium patches applied to the horseshoes help the horses gain traction on the snowy raceways."

Farrier Jesse Kleintop says, "Traction on [a ski-joring] horse -- the best thing for that, instead of shoes with borium or permanent studs, is screw in studs, -- like for an eventing horse, only in lots of snow." He explanins that there are hundreds of stud sizes to choose from and the size of the stud needed depends on the surface conditions. "It's about what works for the horse," he says. Kleintop says he would put two studs in the heel of  each hoof and perhaps, a third in the hind hooves (on the outside, close to the front). Taylor recommends screw in calks of tungsten carbide [borium], and stud holes in each heel as well as one in the front of all four of the hooves.

Besides decreasing traction, snow build-up in the hooves causes bruising of the sole, great pain, and lameness. "You'll want a snowball pad so that the snow doesn't pack in the foot," says Kleintop. Snow packing into the hooves is not good for the legs. It is like standing on a high hill and then trying to run with that hill.

However, Duncan warns, "I have only found temproary solutions to keeping ice from 'balling up' in the shoe. Caulks, toe grabs, snow pads, lubricants, and other means of keeping snow out of shoes is at best a poor deterrent for 'balling', making running in snow unsafe."

Nevertheless, as in any horse sport, there are conflicting opinions. "It's not unsafe," assures Taylor. "Horses have evolved to deal with snow and winter weather. There is always a chance of injury, but no more than any other horse sport."

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