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Accelerating Equine Lameness Diagnosis

Posted June 29, 2010 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

Some racing fans hold their breath when a pack of horses round the far turn to battle it out down the stretch of a racetrack. Will one stumble and collapse with a broken leg? Tragedies over the years have made us wary, and there is a lack of data to prove whether synthetic surfaces are safer than dirt. Maybe it's time to look in other directions – an obvious option is more stringent drug and medication rules; however, injury detection tools are another choice.

Training Gets Hi-Tech

The days of using simple leather and steel in horse training are gone, at least where there's a lot of money involved. Aluminum horse shoes for daisy-cutting hunters, corrective surgery for young race horses, and the use of power tools for equine dentistry are just some of the options available today. It even starts at breeding with embryo transfer, artificial insemination, surrogates, and cloning.

Now, a new technology claims to help detect lameness by finding asymmetry in one of the horse's gaits. (A gait is a type of movement like a human's walk or run. Most horses have four types of gaits – the walk, trot, canter, and gallop.) The new technology, which uses an accelerometer, can find problems in the trot.

Trot On!

The trot is a two-beat gait based on diagonal movement that averages in speed at about eight miles per hour. When trotting, a hind leg and opposing front leg move forward at the same time; then the other hind leg and opposing (diagonal) front leg move forward at the same time. If you've ever ridden a horse you know this is a bumpy gate that jostles you around until you either learn how to post (rise and fall with every other movement) or become balanced enough to sit the trot.

An accelerometer could be used to analyze the gait because it is symmetrical in sound, healthy animals. If the horse is being worked properly it should maintain a steady pace and tempo. The diagnostic tool is "placed at a horse's center of gravity – along the top of its neck above the shoulders". (This area is called the withers; it's the bump at the end of the mane that the saddle sits behind.) In a Danish test, 12 healthy horses were diagnosed by accelerometer as having symmetrical gaits.

The accelerometer used for this testing was developed for the cell phone industry using piezoelectric cantilevers – it's the same technology that causes a response when you shake your device.

Related Technologies and Future Implications

This technology is nothing new:

If an accelerometer can accurately diagnose lameness better than the human eye, it would certainly be a worthwhile investment for the equine world. There are a few things to think about, though:

  • None of the current technologies are designed for daily use – they're diagnostic tools. A human still has to decide to use them.
  • Some horsemen may balk; they have developed a good eye and feel for lameness detection over the years and could resist the technology.
  • Much racehorse training is done at the "jog" – a slow canter – and the gallop. Can tools be developed to detect changes here? Few breakdowns occur at the trot.

Only time will tell how the accelerometers in lameness detection will play out!

Resources:

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-06/cell-phone-tech-could-diagnose-lameness-horses-earlier

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627645.100-phone-sensor-predicts-when-thoroughbreds-will-go-lame.html

http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dvm/Veterinary+Equine/Evaluate-equine-lameness-objectively/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/645739?contextCategoryId=45686

http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/lameness-locator-brings-bit-more-objectivity-veterinary-medicine

http://www.mountainhorsemedical.com/services/22-mountain-horse-medical-center-LAMENESS-LOCATOR.html (images)

More about horses, racing, and equine injury diagnosis on Animal Science:

Infrared Thermography – Non-Invasive Diagnosis Option for Animals (Part 2)

World Cup Athlete Disqualified for Hypersensitivity

Treating Equine Cancer

Equestrian Sports at the Olympic Games

The Science of America's Deadliest Sport

Kentucky Derby Tragedy

The First Synthetic Breeders' Cup: Background & Controversy

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Anonymous Poster
#1

Re: Accelerating Equine Lameness Diagnosis

06/30/2010 10:29 AM

It might be considered that racing 2 year old, 3 year old or 4 year old horses is really the problem. Most of these age horses are NOT mature and their bones are not fully capable. The industry needs to stop abusing these animals for money.

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#2
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Re: Accelerating Equine Lameness Diagnosis

06/30/2010 10:53 AM

Hi Guest,

Racing is an example I used to kick off the story - this is a diagnostic tool that can be used for horses in any equine sport.

But you're right that age is an issue that the racing world should and does consider. A big part of it has to do with money - but isn't everything effected by money?

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