Equine Gait Analysis Takes Step Forward

Equine Gait Analysis Takes Step Forward

Gait and movement pattern are essential to the horse, whether it's a question of the horse's well-being, competition riding, or breeding.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

Gait and movement pattern are essential to the horse, whether it's a question of the horse's well-being, competition riding, or breeding. Recent research carried out in collaboration between University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, and The Royal Veterinary College, in the United Kingdom, used sensors to accurately measure a horse's movements and to quantify limb movement outside the traditional gait laboratory. The new results have just been published in the Journal of Biomechanics.

Lame horses are one of the major sources of frustration for horse owners as well as vets. The same applies for horses with wobbler syndrome, where growth abnormalities or articular process joint osteoarthritis put pressure on the spinal cord causing an ataxic gait. At least one in a hundred horses develop wobbler syndrome, which often leads to the horse having to be euthanized. Both lameness and wobbler syndrome have an effect on a horses gait, and traditionally veterinarians have only been able to study horse movement in a gait laboratory, which commonly only allows study of a few steps at a time on a straight line.

Using inertial sensors, Emil Olsen, DVM, PhD, of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at University of Copenhagen, and his collaborators from the research group of Thilo Pfau, PhD, at Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom have managed to measure horse movement (displacement) as well as the timing of the hoof’s contact with the ground very accurately.

“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,” said Olsen. “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.”

Using this method, veterinarians could be able to analyze the movement patterns of horses with lameness better than before. Researchers could also be able to look into the motor skills and movement patterns of horses in a much more thorough way than previously.

“Our goal with this new system is to achieve a broader screening of the horse’s coordination, and through that, to be able to discover diseases and problems earlier,” Olsen added. “It will also be possible to monitor diagnostics and rehabilitation outside the gait lab with equipment economically within reach for most vets.”

The study, "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," was published in the Journal of Biomechanics

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