Using 3D Printing to Innovate the Centuries-Old Horseshoe Business
Our October Hacker is using his knowledge of horses and 3D design to create a new industry for himself and farriers all over the world.
As we move into an age of self-reliance and innovation, 3D printing at the small and medium enterprise level is becoming increasingly important for businesses around the world. This is the case for Derek Poupard, the Lead Farrier for Godolphin, a global thoroughbred breeding and racing enterprise founded by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Derek has been working with and riding horses since he was four years old. He began his path as a farrier at a very young age, learning to shoe horses (which is a major component of what a farrier does), keep and maintain their health and diagnose and treat issues with the proper shoes. During these early days, he recognized there was room for improvement - something beyond just a simple iron shoe nailed to the hoof of a horse.
“I can remember very early on trying to discover or implement a way that I could slide small pieces of plastic in between the shoe and the hoof of a horse to help maintain a proper gait, or improve some deficiency that would help the horse overall - it was more than just a shoe, it was a tool to help a horse beyond just a veterinarian or surgical option for correcting an issue.”
Because the hoof of each horse is as unique as they are, a mass-produced solution wasn’t yet available - there was no ‘one size fits all’ solution on the market, and even if there had been, the amount of modification needed for each shoe would make it unsustainable as a business model.
That being said, many of the innovations in “farrier-tech” are attributable to Derek during his 30+ years in the profession. In 2008, before using 3D printing to create custom shoes, Derek created a moldable, flexible shoe made from urethane that was poured into a latex mold, mainly as a therapeutic tool. “This approach allowed me to replace the old glue-ons and plastic shoes that were in use at the time. It made it much easier to fit, as well as customize, for each horse.” Each shoe could be poured directly around the hoof of each horse for a truly custom fit.
As a main component of the training that the Godolphin horses receive, training without shoes is top of the list. “Horses evolved without shoes and run their best without shoes, that’s very well known, but training for a race in the past meant shoeing the horses off the track during training. The forces that a horse’s limbs experience in a full gallop place a monstrous load on the forelimbs and the hooves. If you add a shoe to that equation, the horse almost can’t help but become injured. Most of the force from the forelimbs comes down in the middle of the hoof - adding a shoe increases the distance between the point of force and the ground, which increases the distance the hoof has to recover from, which throws everything off.”
From the height component of a horseshoe - even though they are small and lightweight in most cases - they increase the risk of injury, especially when horses race. Enter 3D printing. As a farrier, Derek has designed innovative solutions many times over for horses, and was introduced to new 3D design tools by his son. “My son is an AV Integrator and he convinced me to buy an IPad Pro and pencil. I then started tinkering with designing and the prospect of 3D printing as I was always trying new things to make horses sounder and faster. With Shapr3D, I soon had several working models for the designs I had in mind.”
This led Derek to purchase his first 3D printer in January of 2020. “I bought a Creality Ender 3 Pro. In the first hour, I was hooked! But I was a bit restricted due to the limited kinds of filament that the stock Creality could print.” Derek iterated his new designs with dozens of materials. “I tried everything - PLA, ABS, nylon, PETG, you name it, I threw it at the machine trying to find the right material for my needs. Most of the materials were much too brittle to withstand the forces and were broken in moments. Luckily I tested with NylonX, a carbon-fiber infused nylon filament, and it worked like a charm.”
While the designs are meant for the hooves of horses, they are not to replace the shoe itself - they merely act as a temporary manifold to the metal shoes, allowing them to be taken on and off quickly and easily with only four M4 screws, ‘Formula One’ pitstop style. “We can now very quickly change out a shoe on a horse without the need for nails. We attach the 3D printed interface to the hoof with casting tape, and the interface has sockets that allow us to use screws instead of nails, keeping the hooves healthy and intact.”
In addition to racing-inspired interfaces, Derek has designed 3D printed interfaces to help rehabilitate several issues that may arise over the lifetime of a horse. Several designs include an interface model with a heartbar for horses that are experiencing laminitis. Other designs contain more support or less support for the ‘frog’; the triangle of tissue on the bottom of a horse's hoof that provides shock absorption, traction, protection, and more. He has also designed a ‘yarbroll’ 3D print for the front and rear hoof for hoof casting to help facilitate even more serious rehabilitation. Most of these designs are still attached with traditional nails, with design options available for the M4 screw attachments - another advantage of 3D design and printing.
With a small quartet of Pulse XE 3D printers humming away, Derek is able to print the shoe manifolds he needs on-demand. Depending on the size of the hoof, the design file can easily be manipulated with free 3D modeling software and printed in hours. Derek has also shared his new designs with farriers around the world. He currently has customers and farriers using his printed designs on their own Pulse XE 3D printers in Australia, Dubai, Bahrain, and the United Kingdom. Because the design files are digital, they can be sent anywhere at any time.
“I have been inventing different horseshoeing techniques over the past 30 years and with 3D technology and the strength and flexibility of NylonX I can now create bespoke horseshoeing products that have not been available before. Historically we were really restricted as designing and applying would take weeks if not years. But it now can be done in hours.”
Derek has seen a staggering amount of interest in his methods over a short period of time - he has only been developing and processing his 3D printing designs for only 8 months at the time of this article. “It has been life changing for me. The fact I can design, print and apply myself, instead of relying on someone far away to fabricate my designs, has cut the learning curve and turn around time so I can now teach others to do the same process effectively in a very short time.”
“The 3D printed designs have helped horses get sounder faster and created a huge interest in my trade, and I have made this technology available to all Farriers around the globe so horses all over the world can benefit from these advances.”
Because Derek is an innovator, he sees much more room for improvement in 3D printing technology. “Getting to a level of faster printing, with wireless, remote access to printing controls would be extremely convenient. In addition, it would be fantastic to have quick-change swappable hotends that are exactly the same z-gap to eliminate paper gap testing for nozzle changes. That way if your nozzle clogs, you undo one screw/clamp/lever and change the entire hotend so prints continue seamlessly. Then you can spend time cleaning/repairing the problem while the printer continues.”
We look forward to the success that Derek is having with his newfound business, as well as healthier horses, and more competitive races from those healthy horses in the future.
To learn more about Derek and his 3D printing farrier innovations, visit his website or the very active 3D Farrier and Horseshoeing Facebook group - links below.
3D Farrier Website:
3D Farrier and Horseshoeing Facebook Group: