Balancing act: Centre-of-mass dynamics explored in racehorses and jockeys

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The four shoeing conditions and two surfaces used in this study. A) Aluminium raceplate. B) Barefoot hoof. C) GluShu. D) Steel shoe. E) Horse galloping on Martin Collins Activ-Track at the British Racing School. F) Horse galloping on turf track at the British Racing School. Image: Horan et al. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257820
The four shoeing conditions and two surfaces used in this study. A) Aluminium raceplate. B) Barefoot hoof. C) GluShu. D) Steel shoe. E) Horse galloping on Martin Collins Activ-Track at the British Racing School. F) Horse galloping on turf track at the British Racing School. Image: Horan et al. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257820

Horseshoe and ground surface types can have significant effects on the upper body displacements of horses and their jockeys, researchers in Britain have found.

Horseshoes affect how hooves interact with different ground surfaces during the impact, loading and push-off phases of a stride cycle.

Different shoe and surface combinations have the potential to drive changes in the magnitude and stability of movement patterns in horse and jockey combinations.

Kate Horan and her fellow researchers set out to explore centre-of-mass displacements in horse-jockey combinations galloping on turf and artificial tracks. The measurements were made with four shoeing conditions: Aluminium, barefoot, GluShu, and steel.

Thirteen retired racehorses and two jockeys at the British Racing School were recruited for the research, reported this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

Tri-axial acceleration data were collected close to the centre of mass for the horse (at the girth) and jockey (at the belt position, near the kidney), using an app on iPhones.

From a total of 223 gallop runs, 185 horse and 187 jockey data files were viable for analysis.

The results indicated that surface-type significantly affected peak centre-of-mass displacements in all directions for the horse, and for all directions, but forwards, in the jockey.

There were notable similarities among displacements from barefoot and aluminium trials, compared to GluShu and steel.

“The results support the idea that hoof-surface interface interventions can significantly affect horse and jockey upper-body displacements,” the study team reported.

The greater sinking of hooves on impact, combined with an increased push-off during the propulsive phase, could explain the higher vertical displacements seen on the artificial track.

Variations in lower limb mass associated with shoe type may drive compensatory centre-of-mass displacements to minimize the energetic cost of movement.

The authors noted compensatory increases and decreases in displacements in two of the axes between the horses and riders, indicating the pair might operate within displacement limits to maintain stability.

“Further work is needed to relate centre-of-mass displacements to hoof kinematics and to determine whether there is an optimum configuration of centre-of-mass displacement to optimise performance and minimise injury.”

The study team comprised Horan and Bryony Lancaster, with The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh; Kieran Kourdache and Lucy Hammond, with the British Riding School; James Coburn, Henry Carnall, Dan Harborne and Liam Brinkley, with James Coburn AWCF Farriers Ltd in Newmarket; and Peter Day, Sean Millard and Thilo Pfau, with The Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

Horan K, Kourdache K, Coburn J, Day P, Carnall H, Harborne D, et al. (2021) The effect of horseshoes and surfaces on horse and jockey centre of mass displacements at gallop. PLoS ONE 16(11): e0257820. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257820

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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