Professors Lars Roepstorff and Marie Rhodin discussed training and competition surfaces and the objective tools for lameness assessment at the 2017 WBFSH seminar on "The Horse's Perspective" in Gothenburg, Sweden on 22 August 2017.
The WBFSH seminar was held in co-operation with the Swedish Equestrian Federation (SvRF), European Equestrian Federation (EEF), and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and facilitated by Göran Dalin and Elisabeth Lundholm.
The purpose of the seminar was to ensure that horse sport will remain relevant in our society and to build a platform for future cooperation between stakeholders of the equestrian world – i.e. in sport, breeding and science. It is important that public perception of the horse and its uses are not negative and that horse welfare is respected and safeguarded.
Several keynote speakers addressed the attendees. Here are the abstracts of the first two speakers:
Lars Roepstorff, DVM, PhD
Evaluation of training and competition surfaces in equestrian sport, and the consequences for improved welfare and orthopaedic health of horses working on such surfaces –
Collaboration of the SLU with the FEI has led to the practice of standardising surfaces at FEI events and how to assess or measure the surfaces’ functional properties. Prof Roepstorff described the horse’s phases of locomotion (Impact, Loading and Propulsion/Push- off) and how the principles of hoof-ground forces influence performance and the risk to injury. A surface’s properties therefore need to be balanced in order to optimise performance while minimising the risk of injury.
Five functional properties
- 1. Impact firmness (top layer)
- 2. Cushioning (middle layer)
- 3. Responsiveness (energy return from the surface to the horse’s hoof/leg)
- 4. Grip (sheer resistance in the top layer)
- 5. Uniformity (throughout the surface – from top layer to base and across the surface area)
It is important to remember that surface properties depend as much on maintenance as on construction. There are no poor surfaces, only poor use or maintenance of them. Risk of injury is influenced as much by the surface properties as by previous training methods, fitness etc. The SLU and FEI carried out a footing study in 2013. By means of a questionnaire, data was collected from riders at 10 selected events.
The conclusion of the study showed that the subjective judgement of the riders matched the objective measurements for equestrian surfaces. As a result, it is now possible to recommend a range of measurements to satisfy rider expectations for competition surfaces.
Assoc. professor Marie Rhodin, DVM, PhD
Objective tools for lameness assessment in horses –
Due to a large variation in diagnosis based on visual assessment of lameness, there is a need for objective assessment tools. Often it is more difficult to visually diagnose a hindlimb lameness, due to the compensatory head movement that is commonly associated with front leg lameness. In the past, it was difficult to do research on orthopaedics in horses (e.g. in order to evaluate how to train horses and what risk factors there are for injuries) because there were no objective methods for measurement of lameness.
Objective motion analysis can be done either with a sensor-based or an optic-based system. Several sensor-based systems are commercially available. For example, Lameness LocatorTM (by EquinosisTM) which functions with three sensors (on the poll of the horse, on its pelvis and the right forelimb). Other examples are Equigate or Q-Horse. Combining a sensor-based system with an instrumented treadmill means that the loading of the limbs during movement can also be measured – is the horse disfavouring a leg?
When measuring movement of a horse the phases of movement need to be considered. In the trot, when examining vertical motion, there are two minima and two maxima in a stride cycle (they occur on opposite diagonals). Graphical representation of this will be asymmetric if the horse is lame. Changes in the minima indicate an impact lameness, whereas changes in the maxima indicate a push-off lameness.
Some horses have a high degree of symmetry and highly asymmetric horses are considered lame. But a large number of horses have a degree of biological asymmetry. At what point is an asymmetry an indication of lameness, due to the horse experiencing pain? Even in the absence of pain, more extreme biological asymmetries can increase risks for injuries and chronic orthopaedic problems. There are several studies (some still in progress) that examine various aspects of motion asymmetry, carried out by SLU and partners in other countries, and funded by the Swedish-Norwegian Foundation for Equine Research and the Swedish Research Council Formas.In a cross-over study of riding horses with small movement asymmetries, two groups of horses were treated with either an anti-inflammatory drug or a placebo to assess which horses were experiencing pain. Preliminary results showed that many horses did not show a response to the treatment, indicating that the asymmetries may not be related to acute inflammatory pain. However, other pain mechanisms and chronic pain cannot be ruled out yet. Therefore, a new study is looking into when these movement asymmetries are related to pain, as well as evaluating the relationship between pain behaviour and motion asymmetry. A further study is investigating the relationship between motion asymmetry and motor laterality (as in humans, who can be right- or left-sided, horses also have a side they favour), whether foals are born with it or whether it is acquired.