McPhail Center Opens

On June 7, understanding of the movement of a horse made significant strides with the opening of the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center at Michigan State University (MSU). This 18,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility will allow top veterinary researchers and specialized engineers to study the movement of the horse in good health, and also when there are problems.

Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, is well known for her gait analysis studies (see The Horse, September 1999). She arrived in 1997 from Saskatchewan, Canada, as the first Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at MSU. Until now, all gait analysis studies were made either on a treadmill, or with a force plate in a small work area. The studies were revolutionary, but limited by space. Videos from the previous facility show that sometimes horses, when moving across a forceplate for computerized analysis, had to "slam on the brakes" before hitting the barnâs wall. Now Clayton and her team of researchers have a larger, more specialized work area in which to advance their study of equine locomotion.

The cost of the center is $2.5 million, all paid for by private donations. Some of the features include a 70-by-130-foot riding arena, a video analysis system, a large forceplate, a treatment room, a farrier center, research suites, conference rooms, and office space. There also are stalls and a hard surface lunging arena.

"The surface is blacktop asphalt, unfinished, with a slight grade to the center of the room," Clayton said. Clayton explained that lamenesses are better spotted when the horse is worked on a circle.

The team has performed such tasks as constructing computerized three-dimensional models of equine joints, studying individual limbs and their specific tendencies, evaluating postural sway, comparing interactions between horse and rider, and analysis of gaited horses. The group hopes to bring the analysis of gaits to a new level in terms of diagnostics and a wellness program for performance horses.

"Weâre hoping to expand clinical services in a new and wonderful way," said Clayton.

"Weâre hoping it will bring some Olympic-quality horses," said Lonnie J. King, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. "There will be appointments for the new service of diagnostics. Itâs a complete evaluation, like a physical, only with an equine athlete. We might find tendencies (the horse might have to injury), and catch them before they develop into problems," he added.

"The McPhail Center helps us combine the expertise with engineering," said King. "The benefits are the opportunity to show the early detection of arthritis, early determination of neurological disorders, and the important interaction between the horse and rider. The result is a sounder, fitter athlete that performs better."

Mary Anne McPhail, from whom the Center and Chair are named, is an accomplished rider, trainer, dressage judge, and member of the United States Equestrian Team Board of Trustees and Dressage Committee. Her lifetime involvement with horses led her to establish the Chair, and attempt to find ways to improve the understanding of equine lameness.

She said, "Iâm so proud of what they did and how it came out. It will be wonderful for the university, and most of all, wonderful for the horses-- we can make their lives better."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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