Pioneering rubber horseshoe designed to improve equine welfare

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  • A former top British jockey has partnered with a farrier and an innovative manufacturer to produce a pioneering rubber horseshoe.

    Robert “Choc” Thornton, who rode more than 1,000 winners including in the Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase, worked with farrier Aron Tyler to create Equishox – a lightweight vulcanised rubber shoe with an aluminium core, designed for racehorses with welfare in mind.

    The inspiration for the design came “by chance” during one of Aron’s regular visits to Apple Tree Stud, which Robert founded in 2014.

    “I was rummaging around in the back of Aron’s van, as there’s all sorts of interesting things in there, when I found an original Öllöv SoftStep shoe – a vulcanised rubber shoe, made around a steel insert,” he told H&H.

    He asked Aron about it, who told him that it is designed to reduce concussion and vibration forces on a horse’s limb, and to reduce the impact in cases of knocks.

    “I went away and over a period of time I thought, ‘what if we can make this lighter, more versatile and more accessible?’” said Robert. “I asked Aron, who did some drawings and put the question to [manufacturer] Öllöv, who said ‘yes’.”

    That was three years ago. In the time since, Robert and Aron have founded Equishox, partnered with Öllöv, and the team has gone through various testing processes on the shoe. This includes testing with their own horses, and research with the help of scientist Professor Lars Ropestorff. Their research has found a reduction in concussion and limited vibrations in the leg, and they have also seen a reduction in knocking and striking-in injuries when wearing the shoe.

    Robert said that the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) director of equine health and welfare James Given has been “very helpful – which shows that British horseracing is a leader in welfare”.

    “The BHA gave us approval to run horses in them,” he said. “We had to declare to James every time a horse was running wearing them, and they were checked before and after. Once they were happy with that, we were free to go and so we spread the shoe as widely as we could and did some practical trials.”

    The performance results have been pleasing, but the main priority is welfare and the team is keen to continually improve and develop the shoe through further studies. Another positive that they have heard from those using the shoe is increased stability on hard surfaces, for example when handling horses on the yard or riding to and from the gallops.

    “It’s not something that we’re going to just stand still on. We’re going to carry on with the research,” Robert said.

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