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Galloping racehorses are at their fastest on the flat, with gentle uphill and downhill terrain forcing them to reduce speed, research has shown.
Researchers at the Structure and Motion Lab, at The Royal Veterinary College, University of London, used a radio tracking system to examine the speed of 373 racehorses on different gradients on an undulating racecourse during 33 races.
Their findings, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that while horses were slower running up inclines than on the flat, they were also slower when running on the downhill sections.
Horses showed what they called a speed detriment on the uphill portions due to the power used to gain height.
“A similar relationship can be derived from published data for human runners,” the authors said. “The horses, however, were also slower on the decline.
“Human athletes run faster on a decline, which can be explained by the energy gained by the center of mass from height loss.
“This study has shown that horses go slower, which may be attributable to the anatomical simplicity of their front legs limiting weight support and stability when going downhill.”
The researchers said their findings provided insight into limits to athletic performance in racehorses, which may be useful in training regimens, as well as advancing knowledge from both veterinary and basic science perspectives.
Self Z, Spence AJ, Wilson AM. Speed and incline during thoroughbred horse racing: racehorse speed supports a metabolic power constraint to incline running but not to decline running. J Appl Physiol(June 7, 2012) doi: 10.1152/ japplphysiol-00560-2011.
The study abstract can be read at http://jap.physiology.org/content/113/4/602.abstract?etoc