A horse's saddle and the weight of its rider can directly affect equine performance, causing spinal abnormalities in racehorses and showjumpers.
At the Society for Experimental Biology's Main Annual Meeting in Canterbury [session A7], Patricia de Cocq is presenting novel data showing that when a horse bears the weight of a rider it adjusts the position of its back and alters its limb movements, which makes it prone to back-pain. "The goal of this study is to advise horse trainers and saddle fitters on how to prevent injuries", explains de Cocq.
The research group – from Wageningen University in the Netherlands – analyse horse biomechanics by using a 3D-movement capture system to film horses, with and without 75 kg loads, on treadmills. They can also measure the degree of back-extension and -flexion using data that they have obtained on the relative position and angle of the horse's vertebrae.
They have found that weight and a saddle induce an overall extension of the back, which may contribute to soft tissue injuries. "We consider the changes in limb movement to be a compensatory mechanism for the changed back-position", says de Cocq. "If causes of back pain are known, preventive measures can be taken. The techniques used in this study can be used to compare the comfort for the horse of different saddle designs, which may then improve horse performance."
This research is extremely important because studies on the existence of back problems are limited. "In the future we are planning to also integrate force-measurements into our studies to address issues such as saddle design and riding techniques. In the long run we hope to generate guidelines as to riding techniques and to the maximum weight that a particular horse should carry", says de Cocq.
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