Treadmill Use Aids Equine Performance Evaluation

Methods for evaluating the ubiquitous presentation of "poor performance" in equine athletes have improved in the past few years, enabling veterinarians to better explain why a horse might not be performing at its previous level, explained David R. Hodgson, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, FACSM, a professor and head of the department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Hodgson presented on this subject at the 10th International Congress of World Equine Veterinary Association.

"There are currently two broad forms of clinical exercise testing procedures for evaluation of poor performance in athletic horses: treadmill-based procedures and in-field techniques," explained Hodgson.

High-speed treadmills have been used in laboratory and hospital settings for clinical exercise testing since the 1980s. These tests often involve a combination of steps including:

  • A complete history and physical examination;
  • Lameness evaluation;
  • Cardiac examination (including an ECG and echocardiography);
  • Evaluation of the respiratory system; and
  • Following acclimation to the treadmill, an exercise and post-exercise test.

This combination of techniques is thought to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the horse to better identify the cause of the perceived or actual "poor performance."

While having horses shipped to a laboratory or hospital for comprehensive testing provides challenges, field testing has yet to achieve the diagnostic capabilities of treadmill testing.

"For field tests to be readily accepted within the horse industries, they need to be easy to perform, relatively non-invasive, repeatable, and interpreted without difficulty," explained Hodgson.

Examples of field tests currently in development include global positioning technologies to provide precise indications of speed and enable correlations between speed and heart rate to be calculated and telemetric endoscopy for diagnosing upper airway disorders.

More details on field and treadmill testing are available in Hodgson's abstract, "Assessment of performance: treadmill versus field techniques," available from the International Veterinary Information Service.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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