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Important step forward for gait analysis of horses

As well as gait analysis for lameness, trainers will also be able to use the sensors to check whether a horse moves rhythmically. Pictured is Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival

As well as gait analysis for lameness, trainers will also be able to use the sensors to check whether a horse moves rhythmically. Pictured is Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival. © Paul Harding @ www.lewishardingimages.com

New research makes it possible to use sensors to accurately measure a horse’s movements and to quantify limb movement outside the traditional gait laboratory.

This advance will provide veterinarians, breeders and trainers with several new possibilities, according to the researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the Royal Veterinary College in Britain.

Their findings have just been published in the Journal of Biomechanics.

Using the method developed by the researchers, veterinarians will be able to analyse the movement patterns of horses with lameness much better than before.

Professional trainers will also be able to use the sensors to check whether a horse actually moves rhythmically – an important criteria in dressage as well as other equestrian disciplines.

The sensors will also enable researchers to look into the motor skills and movement patterns of horses in a much more thorough way than previously, the researchers say, although veterinarians are the primary target of the new technique.

Lameness is a major sources of frustration for horse owners as well as vets. The same applies for Wobbler’s syndrome, where growth abnormalities or osteoarthritis put pressure on the spinal cord, causing an unsteady gait.

At least one in a hundred horses develop Wobbler’s syndrome, which often leads to the horse having to be euthanised.

Both lameness and Wobbler’s syndrome affect a horse’s gait, and so far veterinarians have been able to study horse movement only in a gait laboratory, which commonly allows the study of only a few steps at a time on a straight line.

Using inertial sensors – small sensors containing technology like that found in a cellphone, veterinarian Dr Emil Olsen, from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, and his collaborators from Dr Thilo Pfau’s research group at the Royal Veterinary College managed to measure horse movement, as well as the timing of the hoof’s contact with the ground, very accurately.

Andreas Helgstrand and Blue Hors Matiné during their silver-medal winning Kur performance at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.

Andreas Helgstrand and the late Blue Hors Matiné during their silver-medal winning Kur performance at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.

“Our previous research shows that inertial sensors placed right above the horse’s fetlock joint can be used to reliably determine the timing of the hoof’s contact with the ground,” Olsen says.

“Furthermore, we’re a big step closer to being able to measure movement during training of a horse under real-life conditions, because we have also managed to validate the method against the reference standard motion capture, and this provides us with tools to evaluate the development and change in coordination and symmetry simultaneously.

“Our goal with this new system is to achieve a broader screening of the horse’s co-ordination, and through that, to be able to discover diseases and problems earlier,” Olsen says.

“It will also be possible to monitor diagnostics and rehabilitation outside the gait lab with equipment economically within reach for most vets.”

The sensor system has already hit the market in the form of Equigait, a product developed by Olsen’s doctoral supervisor, Dr Thilo Pfau. However, these latest research results have yet to be implemented in any particular product.

The new research results have just been published in the article “Functional limits of agreement applied as a novel method comparison tool for accuracy and precision of inertial measurement unit derived displacement of the distal limb in horses”. It can be accessed here.

 

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