Study of equine sacroiliac treatments earns award for researcher

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Isabelle Anderson's study "Owner satisfaction with rehabilitation practices for chronic sacroiliac pain in equines in the UK since the year 2000" has won the 2021 BETA Equine Thesis of the Year title.
Isabelle Anderson’s study looked at owners’ experiences of chronic sacroiliac pain, a notoriously difficult-to-diagnose common cause of equine back pain and poor performance.

A study looking at the value of collaborative treatment and the popularity of therapy exercises in horses has earned a young graduate the 2021 Equine Thesis of the Year title from the British Equestrian Trade Association.

Isabelle Anderson’s study “Owner satisfaction with rehabilitation practices for chronic sacroiliac pain in equines in the UK since the year 2000” looked at owners’ experiences of the notoriously difficult-to-diagnose common cause of equine back pain and poor performance.

It revealed often variable collaboration between what Anderson described as “the valuable triad” of horse owners, vets and paraprofessionals such as chiropractors.

“Further and larger studies into veterinary-client-paraprofessional relationships could improve equine rehabilitation and welfare by highlighting communication barriers and challenges,” she said.

The popularity and effectiveness of exercises such as carrot stretches, pole work and hill work, along with training aids, for horses with sacroiliac pain were also analysed.

“I really poured my heart into my dissertation as I’m so passionate about owners, paraprofessionals and veterinarians developing healthy relationships and working closely to benefit our horses. We all have the horse’s best interests at heart and by working together we can formulate targeted, effective rehabilitation plans that can adapt as the horse progresses,” Anderson said.

The equine sports therapy and rehabilitation graduate from Chelmsford in Essex, represented Writtle University College in the final of the competition, where four finalists presented a thesis to a panel of judges, watched by an audience of academics and industry figures.

Isabelle Anderson's study looked at owners’ experiences of chronic sacroiliac pain, a notoriously difficult-to-diagnose common cause of equine back pain and poor performance.
Isabelle Anderson.

She collected a £200 cash prize, a trophy and “something really special to put on my CV.” She added that she hoped her success would inspire other students who, like her, needed to re-take a year of their studies.

“I felt embarrassed at the time, but I now feel happy that it was the right thing to do,” Anderson said. “I’m surprised but over the moon at having won the BETA Equine Thesis of the Year.

“Thank you to my lecturers Briony Witherow and Rosa Verwijs, I really couldn’t have done it without them.”

The four finalists were chosen from the original entries by a preliminary panel. The judging panel was headed by research consultant Dr Georgina Crossman with equine nutritionist Katie Williams, vet Karen Coumbe and Equestrian Trade News editor Liz Benwell.

Crossman said the standard of dissertations submitted this year for the annual competition was very high.

“Isabelle Anderson’s dissertation was well structured with a clear research method, and her presentation highlighted the need for shared decision making when considering horses with chronic sacroiliac pain.

“As a judging panel, we felt the finalists were all excellent ambassadors – articulate, intelligent and with a passion for their subjects. the finalists really brought their research to life through their presentations,” Crossman said.

Runner-up Isabel Badham, who hails from Worcestershire and graduated from Harper Adams University, researched “The effect of different water depths on the activity of the equine longissimus dorsi muscle while walking on a water treadmill”. Field trials with racehorses examined whether altering water depth promoted a difference in activity on the left and right sides of this major back muscle.

The other finalists were Sophie Avery, who graduated from The Royal Veterinary College, with her thesis “Risk factors for equine glandular disease associated with general management and husbandry of domesticated horses”, and Rebecca Dillon from the University of Limerick, who presented “An evaluation of racehorse performance using the speed gene test and the dosage system”.

Claire Williams, BETA executive director, said the quality of work put forward bodes well for the future of the equestrian industry.

“BETA took on the Thesis of the Year competition to promote the abilities of graduates coming through, to give them a showcase and a platform from which to jump into future careers.

“This year’s entries have proven we’re in a good place with such young talent coming into our industry. All four finalists can be very proud of what they have achieved.”

Entries are already open for the 2022 BETA Equine Thesis of the Year. UK and Irish universities and colleges offering equine-related degrees are invited to submit one entry each.

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