It is all in the hoof

When Mick Peterson first walked into a racecourse, approximately twelve years ago, he did not know much about horses, and even less in regard to the horse racing industry. But there was something about horse racing that kept pulling him back to the racecourse, and it was not the excitement of race day, it was the opportunity to use his skills to bring improvement and safety to the sport. As a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maine, Peterson created a devise to prevent injury which many were skeptical of at first.

Working with the director of the Orthopaedic Research Centre (College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences) at the Colorado State University, Wayne McIlwraith, Peterson has managed to take his invention and vision for horse racing to a new level, which has led to the establishment of a laboratory that will focus on the testing of racecourse surfaces, to determine if there are flaws in the surface which need repair, before horses are injured.

Horses’ hooves hit the ground at approximately a hundred times harder than the force of gravity, concentrating an immense amount of pressure of a very small surface. Not only do the hooves slam into the ground and absorb the pressure, but they also have to launch the equine athlete into their next stride, and therefore have two purposes instead of one. If the surface of the track cannot support the impact of the horses’ hooves, horses carry the risk of breaking their legs, and soft tissue damage can be caused if the track experiences slide problems. And it is these two major causes of injuries that Peterson and McIlwraith are trying to eliminate.

Peterson has developed a mechanical hoof that is connected to his truck, and which simulates the hoof and leg of a horse. Covering the track with the mechanical hoof, allows Peterson and McIlwraith to record all the necessary data needed to make an accurate diagnosis of the racetrack surface. In many prior cases, they have been able to pinpoint potential problematic areas of various racecourses, and officials have therefore been able to repair the surface before horses have been injured. Peterson hopes that the laboratory and their research will be able to enhance the safety of horses and lead to future discoveries of technological research that will protect these magnificent equine athletes. Peterson was quoted saying: “But then I think about five or 10 years down the road. I want the racetrack to be a place where you can take your kid, and if an injury does occur, you can tell them, ‘They’re doing everything they can.’ And that will be true. It will be honest. Because by then, we will be doing everything we can to help the horses.”