|Introduction: lameness in horses is an important, common problem, both for the horse and for the owner and it can have multiple causes. Clinical visual lameness examination has long been the most important way for veterinarians to diagnose lameness, but this method is not always reliable, especially when the asymmetry is small or the veterinarian unexperienced. Gait analysis systems can be used to objectively measure the symmetry of a horse’s locomotion and also to evaluate the change in symmetry over time. That symmetry development is mostly important in young horses, and important to prevent injuries from becoming chronic at a young age. Therefore, the objective of this study was to measure the effect of training and showing on the symmetry in young warmblood horses.
Materials and methods: measurements were done before and after training and during showing using the QHorse system. Data collected included Range of Motion (ROM), including Range Down Difference (RDD) and Range Up Difference (RUD), MaxDiff and MinDiff, velocity, stride length and stride frequency and hip and shoulder hike during swing and stance. Subjective assessment was carried out by the professional horse trainer in charge and retrospectively from the videos recorded during the measurements, including length of stride, elasticity, impulsion, balance and symmetry.
Results: a linear mixed effect model was used for the analysis of the data. Obvious variation was seen in symmetry parameters between measurements within individual horses and between individuals, but no significant differences were found. There were significant correlations between the measurements for range up of head and withers, range down and MinDiff of pelvis, MaxDiff of withers, shoulder hike during swing and hip hike during stance (P<0.05). Velocity, stride length and stride frequency decreased significantly after training and increased when the horses were showed (P<0.05).
Discussion: a previous study has shown some effect of training on the symmetry of a horse’s locomotion. However, that reported training did not include exercises specifically for dressage, and the asymmetry caused by training became smaller over time. Thus, there is a lot of room for future research including standardizing training schedules. The decrease in stride length and stride frequency can be explained by the decrease in velocity. Decrease in stride length as a result of training is seen in other studies as well, as is a decrease in stride frequency. Growth is not likely to have an effect on these parameters in this study. Showing changes the symmetry of the horse’s locomotion patterns, which can be explained by the stimulating effect of the handler, up to and including the arousal from the participating groom.
Conclusions: training and showing change the symmetry of a young horse’s locomotion, but this effect is not necessarily an improvement. Velocity, stride length and stride frequency decrease during training and increase when the horses are showed. Future research should include a longer follow up period and standardized training schedules and housing conditions.