Researchers in the US have found that the use of trotting poles can be more valuable to a horse’s rehabilitation after lameness than previously realised.
In setting out the objectives of the study, researchers from the Michigan State University’s McPhail Equine Performance Center said that trotting over poles is used therapeutically to restore full ranges of limb joint motion. “The mechanics of trotting over poles have not yet been described, hence quantitative evidence for the presumed therapeutic effects is lacking.”
The team also included Professor Hilary Clayton, chair of Equine Sports Medicine at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
They set out to determine changes in joint angulations and hoof flight arcs, by comparing limb kinematics in horses trotting over level ground. The horses were put over low poles (11cm) and over high poles (20cm) spaced from 1.05m to 500cm apart.
Standard motion analysis procedures with skin-fixed reflective markers were used.
Peak heights of the fore and hind hooves increased significantly and progressively from no poles (fore: 13.8 ± 3.8 cm; hind: 10.8 ± 2.4 cm) to low poles (fore: 30.9 ± 4.9 cm; hind: 24.9 ± 3.7 cm) and to high poles (fore: 41.0 ± 3.9 cm; hind: 32.7 ± 4.0 cm).
“All joints of the fore and hindlimbs contributed to the increase in hoof height through increased swing phase flexion. The hooves cleared the poles due to increases in joint flexion rather than by raising the body higher during the suspension phases of the stride.”
The researchers concluded that trotting over poles is effective for activating and strengthening the flexor musculature.
“Unlike the use of proprioceptive stimulation devices [where tactile stimulation is applied to the bottom of the foot] in which the effects decrease over time due to habituation, the horse is required to elevate the hooves to ensure clearance whenever poles are present.
“The need to raise the limbs sufficiently to clear the poles and place the hooves accurately requires visuomotor coordination which may be useful in the rehabilitation of neurological cases.”
Swing phase kinematics of horses trotting over poles; S. Brown, N.C. Stubbs, L.J. Kaiser, M. Lavagnino, H.M. Clayton. DOI: 10.1111/evj.12253. Accepted for publication in the Equine Veterinary Journal.