Holly’s Christmas wish comes true: Horse takes first step in 3D printed ‘horse-thotics’

Horse vets and CSIRO scientists have given a surprise Christmas gift to ten year old mare, Holly, who suffers from a chronic foot disease.

  • 18 December 2013

Today she took the first steps in her new 3D printed titanium shoes that were custom designed to fit her foot. They may be the key to stomping out foot disease and lameness in horses.

The team of 3D printing experts from CSIRO worked with horse podiatrists to scan Holly's feet and design the 'horse-thotic which aims to support the foot and encourage it to heal, whilst making Holly comfortable.

Holly has spent 3 years suffering from a debilitating disease called Laminitis. The horse's foot is similar to our finger; the hoof wall is like our finger nail and is attached to the bone underneath. Laminitis affects the attachment between the hoof and bone, causing pain and inflammation.

3D printing has the potential to create so many advanced biomedical products, but rehabilitation of horses has been a completely new area of work for CSIRO."

Dr Luke Wells-Smith

Horse vet and farrier, Dr Luke Wells-Smith from the Equine Podiatry and Lameness Centre, said his team saw the 3D printed shoe CSIRO built for a race horse earlier this year and started to think about using 3D printing to rehabilitate lame horses.

"The new shoes will work to redistribute weight away from the painful areas of the laminitic foot and give Holly, and horses like her, the chance to recover," he said.

"Many attempts have been made in the past to cure laminitis but it’s the 3D scanning and design part of this process that is so exciting to us.

"Christmas is looking a lot merrier for Holly this year. She should be walking normally and without pain in just a few weeks," said Luke.

CSIRO's 3D printing expert, John Barnes, said scanning the hoof would allow them to manufacture a shoe that is the ‘perfect fit’ for these complicated foot diseases, giving the horse the best possible chance for rehabilitation," he said.

"We know that 3D printing has the potential to create so many advanced biomedical products, but rehabilitation of horses has been a completely new area of work for CSIRO.

"We’re glad that this technology is opening so many doors and is now helping to aid the rehab process for these animals and get them walking comfortably again," he said.

Holly's new shoes demonstrate the range of applications the 3D printing technology can be used for. At CSIRO we are helping companies use this game-changing technology to create new applications like biomedical implants and even automotive and aerospace parts.

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3D printed ‘horse-thotics’.
CSIRO's team of 3D printing experts worked with horse podiatrists to scan Holly's feet and design the 'horse-thotic.


[Image shows presenter walking with a pony out of a shed]

So Holly’s a ten year old riding pony, and she’s had laminitis for about three years.  And so laminitis is basically the inflammation between the attachment between the hoof wall and the bone that lives inside.  

[Image changes to presenter]

And so that attachment is similar to what our fingernail is like attaching to our finger.  So basically the attachment’s inflamed, and there’s pain associated with that, and what we try to do with a horse like that is try and make them comfortable and grow a normal foot again.

When it comes to shoes, we design the shoe specifically for that horse.  We looked at the x-rays and decided that we wanted a shoe that had... gave that foot some elevation at the heel, but we also wanted to break over easy, so when the horse steps there’s a nice fluent rolling motion.

And so when we looked at the x-ray, looked at the horse, then went back and designed the shoe, it was all around these parameters, the horse, the x-rays, what the foot looked like, and then we went and designed it. 

So what we’re hoping for is that that shoe is in the optimum position, and is designed to relieve the tension surrounding that foot, particularly at the front where the majority of the laminitis occurs along the front hoof wall.

[Video of horse’s hoof being scanned with a 3D scanner]

We took that information from the 3D scanner and from the x-rays back to the CSIRO lab, and we designed the shoe specifically for the horse.

[Image shows a man working at a computer, image then changes to a door being opened and a cast being removed from inside a machine then the cast is placed in a sand blasting box and is cleaned off, image then changes to the presenter]

What this technology is going to do is enable us to manage these horses in a better way.  We’re going to be able to produce a shoe of high quality, with good durability, and biomechanically you know sort of support that foot and try and rehabilitate it over a period of time.

[Video of shoe being fitted to the horse, and then the horse walking around an enclosure]

I was super happy with how she was walking, happy with the shoe placement, and she seems very comfortable, so that’s a really good start. 

So I think what that means for Holly, she’s got a good chance, if we manage her in this manner for a period of time, that she could live comfortably in those sort of shoes, and live out her life, and do what she needs to do. 

She can definitely walk better.  And I think, you know, just even initially she looks like she’s walking better, so that’s a good start.