New Software Evaluates Horse, Rider Asymmetry

New Software Evaluates Horse, Rider Asymmetry

When a horse and rider are filmed by high-definition video, and the film is fed into the new program, a few simple mouse clicks can provide immediate, detailed analysis of the symmetry--or lack of it--between horse, rider, and saddle.

Photo: Dr. Elizabeth Gundy

Editor's note: This article is part of TheHorse.com's ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Technology advancements have allowed enormous improvements in understanding how horses and riders interact via pressure, tension, balance, and more. But despite their many benefits, these technological tools can be complicated to use properly and might not be readily available to the people who might benefit from them the most: riders and riding instructors.

That's about to change.

Using video gaming technology, British equitation scientist and computer programmer Elizabeth Gandy, MSc, MBCS, of the University of Sunderland, has developed a user-friendly software program to help nonscientists evaluate a very common riding problem: asymmetry. She presented her new program at the 2012 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, on July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"We know there's asymmetry there, between the horse, rider, and saddle; virtually every rider can feel it, and even when they can't (feel it), the coach can see it," Gandy said during her presentation. "But that asymmetry needs specific scientific assessment. We wanted to develop a program that would take all the things that scientists can do and bring them into one system, one that's accessible to non-scientists."

Gandy, herself a para-equestrian with her own particular symmetry issues related to her physical challenges, first developed a prototype of the software as a "summer vacation project," she said. But realizing the benefits it could provide to the general riding population, she decided to expand that project into a full-scale, easy-to-use computer program, with the help of University of Sunderland research colleagues Robert Hogg, PhD, and Anne Bondi, BHSI, and undergraduate programmer Aaron Cornell.

This new program (called Equine Motion Analysis System, or EMAS), features pop-up windows, automated graphs, data set comparisons, and practical export options (so the results can be saved as an image file, for example). It requires practically no training for the user, Gandy said.

The concept is based on a marker system--brightly colored vertical adhesive tape attached to the horse and rider in five places: on the middle of the rider's lower back (the lumbosacral joint), on the middle of the back of the riding helmet or hat, along the horse's backbone, on each of the horse's hips (tubera coxae), and on the middle of the back of the saddle.

A sixth marker, horizontal this time, is also placed on the back of the saddle. When this is filmed by high-definition video, and the film is fed into the program, a few simple mouse clicks can provide immediate, detailed analysis of the symmetry--or lack of it--between horse, rider, and saddle.

Gandy used six pilot studies of 25 horse and rider combinations to develop this marker system. The software was then tested on another 14 horse and rider combinations with different skill levels.

"Asymmetry was identified in all the combinations in this study," Gandy said. "And our results pointed to the rider's asymmetry actually being a symptom of the horse's asymmetry, rather than the riders themselves being asymmetric--at least for that particular data set. Of course, we need to do a bigger study to know for sure if that's generally the case."

Although the program is easy to use, it's still preferable to have an expert read the results, Gandy relayed. "It prompts the user on what to click on, but we will still need the equitation scientists to help come up with a protocol about how the results should be interpreted," she said.

More studies are underway to validate the program for scientific use and it could then potentially be commercialized, Gandy said, and she's still tweaking and improving it to make it even more useful. EMAS could be available to the equestrian public as early as 2014, she said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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