Significant kinematic changes seen in Thoroughbreds retrained as saddle horses

Researchers charted changes in off-the-track Thoroughbreds during a structured training program as they moved to careers as saddle horses.
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Researchers charted changes in off-the-track Thoroughbreds during a structured training program as they moved to careers as saddle horses.

The study team from Korea assessed changes in the horses as they developed ideal movements for a saddle horse.

Taewoon Jung and Hyoungjin Park, writing in the journal Applied Sciences, said retraining Thoroughbreds as saddle horses is a cost-effective and sustainable option for racehorses at the end of their careers.

In Korea, about 1500 racehorses are retired each year. Among them, 527 (35.6%) are culled because of disease; 526 (35.5%) are used as saddle horses; 166 (11.2%) are employed for breeding; 143 (9.75%) are put out to pasture; and 83 horses (2.6%) are converted for other purposes.

The most important part of a racehorse’s performance is speed, while for saddle horses, stability, accurate gait implementation, and changing gait are most critical.

The pair analyzed the effects of saddle horse conversion training on the gaits of 12 off-the-track Thoroughbred racehorses. The horses were retrained 20 to 50 minutes a day, five times a week for three months.

The work focused on the desensitization of horses so that people could ride safely. They were trained to smoothly transition between the walk, trot, and canter.

The program, developed by three experts, including university professors with more than 15 years of riding and training experience, also aimed to improve muscle balance and propulsion in a way that suited work as a saddle horse.

The gaits of the horses were recorded before and after training using motion capture technology.

“The retraining program applied to the Thoroughbreds in this study induced significant changes in the kinematic parameters,” Jung and Park reported.

There were several critical findings, they said. “The results show that the decreased stride length of each foot decreased the displacements of the center of mass and the center of the head.

“In addition, after retraining, there was a significant decrease in the head-neck angle and displacement between the center of the head and the center of the neck.” In effect, the horses pulled their heads toward their body after retraining.

“These changes in the horses’ movements mean that the habitual movements for racing are gradually changed to optimal movements for a saddle horse.”

It should be borne in mind, they said, that no significant differences were observed in the duration of gaits and the center of mass and head velocities.

“Although the effect of retraining was not statistically significant in the stride lengths, all stride lengths were reduced in both walk and canter (following retraining).

“Since the retrained horses did not have to run at the maximum speed as in a race, this reduction of the stride lengths is considered the effect of retraining as racehorses are converted to saddle horses.”

In particular, the results showed that the right-side stride length decreased more, indicating that the retraining addressed imbalances from racing counterclockwise on Korean racetracks.

“What is interesting from the above results is that the compensatory movement of the horse was significantly reduced after training, and the horse tried to center itself on the rider.

“It means that life as a racehorse to run the fastest changed the horse’s gait and that change can be seen when recovering as a saddle horse.”

Jung is with the Department of Horse Industry and Sports Rehabilitation at Jeonju KiJeon College; Park is with the Department of Physical Education, part of the Korea Science Academy of KAIST.

Jung, T.; Park, H. The Effect of 12 Weeks of Saddle Horse Conversion Training on Thoroughbred Horse Gait. Appl. Sci. 2022, 12, 6411.

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

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