Official veterinarians at FEI Endurance rides have confirmed to researchers how difficult it can be to detect subtle lameness in horses during evaluations in competition.
Elimination rates in Endurance competitions are high, especially so in higher-level competitions in which FEI-accredited veterinarians are required to make the call over lameness.
Such decisions can affect the race outcome and commonly draw objections from competitors.
Monica de Mira, from the University of Évora in Portugal, and her colleagues from Portugal, Australia and Britain, set out in a study to assess the views of FEI official endurance veterinarians around the challenges in assessing lameness.
They also wanted to learn about the occurrence of confrontations with riders when horses are eliminated because of lameness, and to get their thoughts on the use of user-friendly technology to help detect lameness.
All FEI official endurance veterinarians were invited to complete a questionnaire. There were 157 responses in all, with 56.1% of them from Europe and 16.6% from the Middle East.
For most respondents, detecting lameness was considered challenging, even among the more experienced and well-trained veterinarians, the study team reported in the journal, Comparative Exercise Physiology.
The researchers found that 65.8% of those who responded considered it was often hard to classify horses as lame or sound.
Handlers not trotting the horse properly during evaluations was the most common problem, cited by 94.3% of the vets.
Nearly all — 98.2% — had been confronted at least once by a rider or associate over the decision to declare a horse lame.
Roughly three-quarters of the vets expressed an interest in having the support of user-friendly technology to assess gait, with a third happy to have it available for all evaluations, while 38% felt it would be handy only when horses had more subtle gait issues.
“The findings of this survey suggest that technology to objectively detect and quantify gait abnormalities during endurance competitions would be beneficial to support decisions made by official endurance veterinarians when evaluating and or eliminating horses for lameness,” the study team concluded.
Challenges encountered by Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) veterinarians in gait evaluation during FEI endurance competitions: an international survey
M.C. de Mira, C. Santos, M.A. Lopes D.J. Marlin.
The abstract of the study can be read here.