Equine Performance Center Opens

Health care for the nation's horse population entered a new era June 7 when the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center officially opened at Michigan State University.

Occupying more than 18,000 square feet of space, the center expands the College of Veterinary Medicine's facilities for clinical evaluations and research studies of equine health problems.

By combining such traditional diagnostic techniques as radiology, ultrasound and arthroscopy with cutting-edge methods such as computerized gait analysis, the building is one of the nation's foremost centers for diagnosis and treatment of performance problems in sport horses.

"The facility will have two functions," said Hilary M. Clayton, who holds the McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine. "It will be used for clinical purposes as well as for research and will allow these two functions to be fully integrated."

Clayton, who led a biomechanical research team studying equestrian sports at the Olympic Games in 1992 in Barcelona, directs a team of seven researchers who will use the facility.

While the center will attract elite equine athletes from around the nation, its services will be available to all horses, Clayton said, from pleasure and trail horses to Olympic-quality horses.

Among the building's many features is a 70-foot by 130-foot indoor riding arena, that will allow veterinarians to assess horses as they are being ridden or driven.

"A lot of problems of athletic horses can be seen only while they are performing," said Clayton. "With race horses we can simulate what they do during a race by having them trot, pace or gallop on our high-speed treadmill. However, we can't use the treadmill to simulate jumping a fence or performing a pirouette."

In addition to the riding arena, the center also houses a large force platform and a video analysis system, both used for computer-aided gait analysis.

"We will be evaluating the mechanics of horses while they move as they would during competition and use this information to understand how injuries arise and how they can be prevented," Clayton said. "We will also be collecting data about riders to help them become better at what they do, as well."

"We expect this marriage of veterinary medicine, engineering and computer science to rewrite expectations in dressage and other equine performance events," said Lonnie J. King, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. "The center also will serve as a unique teaching site for our veterinary students, practicing veterinarians and horse owners as we introduce them to the new techniques of this specialized medical field."

Among a growing number of special events scheduled at the center is the meeting in 2004 of the International Conference on Equine Locomotion, which is held every four years.

Other features of the center include laboratories, offices, a conference room, stables, treatment rooms and a farrier shop.

The MSU Board of Trustees granted the college a loan that must be repaid during the next five years. Private donors have so far contributed $1.4 million of the center's $2.5 million price tag. Naming opportunities and other recognition options remain for those interested in contributing to the center or its accompanying research endowment.

Mary Anne and Walter McPhail, major donors to this project, are long-time supporters of the College of Veterinary Medicine. A previous gift from them established the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine, a position held by Clayton.

Mary Anne McPhail, a 1955 graduate of MSU's College of Social Science, is an accomplished horsewoman and a dressage judge. She is a member of the United States Equestrian Team Board of Trustees and serves on the USET Dressage Committee. A dressage horse owned by her—"Lectron"—won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Walter McPhail is former chief executive officer of Lectron Products of Troy, Mich. Check out the center's web site at http://cvm.msu.edu/dressage.

More on the McPhail opening will appear in the August issue of The Horse, along with photographs of the Center.

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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