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Saturday, April 01, 2017

News: Priceless Fossil Rocking Horse, Once a Childhood Toy, Restored in Minnesota

   The evolution of the horse (Order Perissodactyla) included modification of the foot from five distinct narrow hooves, decreasing temporarily to three and presently to what we consider the remaining "middle toe". The study of that evolution has many chapters, and if you read between the lines and follow the footnotes, many colorful characters.

An early ancestor of the modern horse, known as Mesohippus, stood about six hands high and roamed the Great Plains of North America. While it did have three toes, the middle toe was somewhat dominant and looks somewhat similar to the coffin bone in today's Equus caballus.

The evolution of the horse has been the center of controversy for centuries. While many once (and some still) insist on describing the horse's evolution by counting toes in reserve order, the pre-history of the horse is described to be more like a bush than as a straight-limbed tree. The late American evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould warned his readers not to celebrate the evolution of the horse as the perfection of evolution; he likened the modern horse to a mere twig on a very non-linear bush.

Last year a museum in Minnesota unveiled an exhibit that will make you smile, and hopefully want to learn more about the evolution of the horse's foot. It is called Mesohippus Mirabilis, and it makes child's play of the serious and often misinterpreted subject of equine evolution.

British paleontologist Sir Richard Owen,
who was the first to group equidae with
the rhinoceros and tapir, based on foot
anatomy. He named the order 
Perissodactyla, otherwise known 
as the "odd-toed ungulates".
Minnesota sculptor Michael Bahl, credited with restoration of this amazing children's toy, described its origin:

"This specimen was transformed in Great Britain circa 1857 by Emily David, a protegee of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, one of the early sculptors of life-sized prehistoric statuary. It is believed to have been made for a grandson of Sir Richard Owen, the foremost paleontologist of the period. 

"The rocking horse was kept at the family home in Sussex until 1914 when its history becomes clouded by the storms of The Great War. When, in 1933, the grandson passed away in Paris, no mention was made of the piece.

"Following World War II as new construction forced the relocation of many cemeteries throughout Europe, the horse was discovered in a private mausoleum near Warsaw. In the chaos and secrecy of the Cold War, it vanished once more, only to resurface in rural North Carolina where it was purchased for restoration."

But it is alive in our imaginations, thanks to the artist whose expertise at anatomy extends to knowing the exact location of the often-elusive human funny bone.

Mesohippus mirabilis is currently on display at the The Museum of Paleo-Osteological Interpretation in St. Paul, Minnesota, where artist Michael Bahl invites observers to exercise their own imaginations as they consider that these forms that they have always viewed as science might also be seen as works of art that can be enjoyed with unanticipated and even playful enthusiasm.

And perhaps they even were.

Thanks to photographer Lorie Shaul for the remarkable image of Michael Bahl's creative masterpiece.

Learn more about mesohippus (and its toes) at the website of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Also, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins is worth googling; he once held a dinner party inside the mold of one of his dinosaur skeletons in London's Crystal Palace. He really did work with Owen but moved to America to do extensive work for both the Smithsonian and Princeton University. His most famous work is believed to have been the victim of the notorious Mayor Tweed of New York City, who cancelled construction on a paleo museum; Hawkins' dinosaurs-in-progress are believed to still be buried in Central Park

And that's no joke.

(For international readers: April 1 is a special holiday in America, I hope you understand this article's intent!)

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is the news service for Hoofcare and Lameness Publishing. Please, no re-use of text or images on other sites or social media without permission--please link instead. (Please ask if you need help.) The Hoof Blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a headlines-link email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). Use the little envelope symbol below to email this article to others. The "translator" tool in the right sidebar will convert this article (roughly) to the language of your choice. To share this article on Facebook and other social media, click on the small symbols below the labels. Be sure to "like" the Hoofcare and Lameness Facebook page and click on "get notifications" under the page's "like" button to keep up with the hoof news on Facebook. Questions or problems with the Hoof Blog? Send email to The Hoof Blog. 
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Underfoot in Dubai: World Cup Hooves, Shoes and Farriers for Thoroughbred Racing’s Superstars

horseshoes at the Dubai World Cup Thorougbred races

When the world’s best racehorses pack their bags for a trip to the golden global hotspot of Dubai to race in the World Cup, what do they pack? These days, trainers are sending more than coolers, halters and haynets with their horses.

They’re sending farriers, who in turn are shipping in a surprisingly diverse assortment of raceplates and nails. The flip side of the coin is that several of the top racehorses now don their shoes only on the morning of the race--and have them promptly removed the day after it's over.

Travel to Dubai with us, as we check in on an international troop of farriers, hard at work in the desert on some of the world's most valuable horses. What comes out of the desert may be headed for you.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hoofcare Holocaust History: Jan Liwacz, the Blacksmith of Auschwitz, and the Smell of Burning Hooves

blacksmith Jan Liwacz made arbeit macht free sign at Auschwitz
"Work will make you free" promises the sign above the gate at the entrance of Auschwitz in Poland, the site of one of the worst disasters in human history. It's one of the most famous signs, and symbols of suffering and evil, anywhere in the world. Did you ever wonder who forged it? Have you ever heard of Jan Liwacz, the blacksmith of Auschwitz? And did you know there is a touch of irony forged into the letters by a prisoner blacksmith? (Photo by "Neil" courtesy of Wikimedia.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Thinking Outside the Flip Flop Box: Florida Farriers Find Flex-Step Free-Heel Hoof Pad Aids Problems in Sport, Racehorse Feet

Polyflex Horseshoe flip flop on sport horse
Polyflex Flex-Step flip flop pad
Far from the racetrack, a warmblood show horse sports the new high-tech Flex Step free-heel pad. The shoe is cut to the widest part of the foot, and rabbit ear drainage holes have been opened to allow sand, footing and water to drain out. Attentive show grooms maintain the pads by inserting the hose nozzle between the pad and the heel bulbs to make sure the sole isn't packed. Two small holes in the heels accommodate studs for traction, if needed, on some models. Copper rivets on the inside of the shoe's web attach the pad to the unheeled shoe. Made by Polyflex, a company known for its glue-on shoes, the pad is designed to be partially attached to the foot with nails and requires no adhesive or hoof packing.

Sometimes you wonder where things came from. Who was that first Standardbred farrier in Europe who cut the heels off a horse’s shoe, put a plastic pad against the foot, and nailed it on? You can hear it now: the horse walking down the barn aisle with a clumsy sounding “flap flap flap flap” sound from the loose pad against the heels. The farrier probably never counted on the noise. The trainer took some teasing, without a doubt. But that horse must have won, because they’re still around.

And no one laughs at you when your horse is winning.

USDA's new Horse Protection Act rules withdrawn from federal enactment.

A Tennessee Walking horse wearing stacked pads and bands. This horse was shod for demonstration purposes at a vet-farrier education event. The pads and shoe bands would have been banned under the unpublished rule announced last week. (Fran Jurga photo)

The Hoof Blog is issuing an unexpected post script to a widely circulated story published here on January 13, announcing that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was publishing its Executive Action rule changes to the Horse Protection Act with the Federal Register.

The article described the action as an 11th-hour "Hail Mary Pass" to stop Tennessee Walking horse soring abuse before the Obama administration's USDA appointees left office, to be replaced by Trump appointees.

And it almost worked.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Swedish research tests hoof sensor capable of predicting wall structural changes

An electronic sensor taped to a horse's hoof walls at Chalmers University in an earlier stage of research.
Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden is entering a public testing phase for a new sensor that gauges the structural integrity of the equine hoof wall, with a goal of pinpointing cracks and wall damage before they are visible to the human eye.