July 10, 2008

A Dutch study has not been able to confirm the traditional belief that rising trot is less demanding than a sitting trot for the horse.

The rising trot, long thought to ease the burden on a horse's back, may not be as beneficial as first thought.

Scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, led by Professor Johan van Leeuwen, used specialist equipment to assess the impacts of certain riding techniques on horses.

Their gear included special horseshoes able to measure acceleration forces and specialised force gauges to record the strain on the backs of horses exerted through the saddle and stirrups.

These measurements, combined with computer modelling, provided insight into the mechanisms that a rider can use to respond to the movements of a horse, and to prevent injury.

The shoes were also used in further research to determine what rider techniques may be helpful in reducing reducing injury risk to the horse - important given that a significant number of equine injuries result from the pressure exerted by riders.

The research indicated a rising trot may not be as advantageous as previously thought.

"We have given particular attention to the comparison of sitting and rising trot, as it is broadly accepted in the equestrian world that rising trot imposes less loading on the back of the horse," said Professor van Leeuwen.

"However, our results have not been able to confirm the belief that rising trot is mechanically less demanding for the horse.

"Looking at back extension, which is most often related to back injuries, we found that the extension of the back is similar in rising and sitting trot."

The specialist shoes were also used to determine whether "aquatraining" is beneficial in treating joint injuries in horses because it reduces impact forces.

Rehabilitation after equine joint or muscle injuries, including the back, shoulders and legs, often involve aquatraining, where horses move in water-filled treadmills.

The buoyancy is thought to reduce weight-bearing forces, which might harm recovering joints, but to date there has been few studies into the perceived benefits.

The work on aquatraining rehabilitation revealed significantly lower impact accelerations during working, suggesting it is beneficial to joint recovery.

Professor van Leeuwen said further work would be carried out to confirm these results.

Results of the researchers' work were presented this week at the Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Meeting in Marseille.

This work involved collaboration with the Department of Equine Sciences, Utrecht University, the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Centre, Michigan State University and the Dutch Equestrian Centre.