Better support for female horse riders on the way: Here’s how you can help

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Female equestrians have the chance to help make a change to health outcomes for other riders by taking part in a survey, which will ultimately play a part in the design of a new equestrian sports bra.

The collaboration between US and British researchers is part of a new study aiming to gather information about attitudes to the barriers to riding for women and breast biomechanics. The goal is to build a wireless sensor system to allow further study “in the field” of female equestrians.

A  survey is being conducted as part of a master’s thesis by Karin Pekarchik, from the University of Kentucky’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) and a graduate student in Community and Leadership Development. Her dissatisfaction with bras lacking sufficient support for a sitting trot led to her collaboration with British researchers who are studying breast biomechanics of the female equestrian.

Karin Pekarchik
Karin Pekarchik
Equestrians from all spheres of horse sport are urged to take part, including those who compete, ride racehorses, or pleasure ride. Pekarchik is aiming for 1000 responses.

Along with Kimberly Tumlin from the UK College of Public Health, Pekarchik is working with researchers Jenny Burbage from the University of Portsmouth, and Lorna Cameron, of Sparsholt College in Winchester, on breast health and breast biomechanics.

“We are all interested in how breast discomfort/pain and ill-fitting, poorly performing bras limit desire to ride,” Pekarchik said.

In An investigation into prevalence and impact of breast pain, bra issues and breast size of female horse riders, (Journal of Sports Sciences, 2016), Burbage and Cameron surveyed 1324 women to determine some of the impacts that breast size and breast discomfort have on riding. Their survey showed that 40% of women suffer from breast pain, most frequently at the sitting trot, and that this pain can be a deterrent for riding participation.

“Their survey highlights some of the issues of breast discomfort during riding and educational steps regarding bra design and bra fit that are needed,” Pekarchik said.

She has adapted Burbage’s and Cameron’s breast-focused survey to include a more general health focus to determine female equestrian health issues and outcomes over life stages.

“As we all know, female equestrians can start riding early in life and can ride well into their 70s, which is unusual in sport, and while much research has been devoted to the equestrian athlete, less has been conducted on the human partner.

“I am particularly interested in physical issues (excluding concussion and bone breakage, which are covered elsewhere) that can limit riding, as well as the public health aspect of building an educational program to help mitigate breast discomfort and other health factors that can keep women out of the saddle,” she said.

In the earlier survey, Burbage and Cameron found that of the 1324 female riders who took part, 51% were classified as being large-breasted (a D cup size or larger). Breast pain was reportedly experienced by 40% of all participants and this was found to be significantly related to cup size.

Karin Pekarchik riding her 20-year old draft cross Bruce at his first dressage show, a local schooling event held this past summer.
Karin Pekarchik riding her 20-year old draft cross Bruce at his first dressage show, a local schooling event held this past summer.

The study is part of a larger project for Tumlin and Pekarchik. She and Tumlin are the “clients” to an engineering senior design team, who are using the two-semester course to apply engineering principles to design a better equestrian sports bra.

Pekarchik, Tumlin, and BAE engineers Joe Dvorak and Josh Jackson are working on building a wireless sensor system that will allow Burbage and Cameron to gather breast biomechanics data in the field, on horseback, rather than simulating riding on a mechanical horse.

• The survey “Attitudes, behaviors, and areas of educational opportunity for female equestrians toward bra use and health outcomes when engaged in equestrian sports” will be available until March 19, 2017. Those taking the survey must be 18 or over.

Preliminary sketch of the new design equestrian bra.
Team Equestrian’s most recent design of their equestrian sports bra. The senior design team consists of the following biosystems engineering students: Kali Sebastian, Christina Zhang, Emma Benedict, and Meaghan Dunn.

 

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