At the AAEP Blue-Ribbon Panel Research Meeting in Ft. Collins, Colo., on Aug. 1, Paul René Van Weeren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECFS, associate professor, Department of Equine Sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, discussed evaluating ground reaction forces to determine how a horse's limbs interact with its environment.

He explained that either a force shoe that is attached to the horse or a force plate that is attached to the environment can be used to measure this interaction. Because force shoes are heavy and alter mechanics of locomotion, they interfere with accuracy of results, and they are vulnerable to malfunction due to necessary wiring. A force plate embedded into the ground will not affect a horse's locomotion, but the horse is restricted in where it must exercise for evaluation, and the horse's limbs must strike the force plate consistently and in a specific spot. Although a treadmill is useful in application with a force plate, it requires a horse learn to run on a treadmill, which is an expensive device. In addition, regular gait is somewhat altered by a treadmill.

Van Weeren proposed the use of indirect measurement of ground reaction forces from calculation of kinematic data that studies limb movement. His proposal relies on the idea of the lower limb of a horse acting like a spring such that vertical ground reaction forces can be measured by relationship of the distance between the hoof and elbow and the fetlock angle at walk and trot. In this way, the lower limb of the horse acts as a "strain gauge."

Van Weeren's study confirmed that there is a useful correlation between calculated and measured individual limb forces using this method to identify changes in limb loading in a lame horse. This technique is also valuable for gait analysis under any condition by eliminating the need for specialized hardware, wiring, or any conditions that influence a horse's gait. He encouraged more collaboration of engineers and human movement scientists with equine gait analysts.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her recent book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care (available at or by calling 800/582-5604). She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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