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ISES Conference, Saumur, DAY 3

The final day of the International Society for Equitation Science conference in Saumur was spent back in the lecture arena. After the social evening the night before most of us were looking a little weary, so we were hoping for something to kick start our minds first up and Nathalie Crevier-Denoix did not disappoint.

Nathalie presented some very interesting research into the biochemical effects of different training surfaces on the locomotory system. By us using a device to measure biomechanical stresses on the legs of trotters (racing) and show jumping horses whilst exercising on various surfaces, she could find out which surfaces had more or less impact.

The results showed that hard sand surfaces, as opposed to harrowed surfaces showed far greater impact on the legs resulting in lesions and a greater risk of injury. The maximal vertical loading is the most critical phase of stance. It is influenced by the properties of the compacted surface/base. In show jumpers, whilst a harder track enabled greater speed, the softer track (rolled and harrowed, 13cm deep) greatly reduced impact due to allowing the hoof to slide, absorbing some of the impact. Removing the top layer to 7cm deep significantly increased both impact shock and the vertical loading rate if the limb.

Uta könig von Borstel analysed the relationship between health problems and horse husbandry. The results showed a higher injury rate in competition horses, and also higher injuries in shod horses, compared to barefoot. She also found a higher rate of digestion surgeries in competition horses, yet a lower risk of digestive issues in barns managed by someone with a relevant qualification . In general, she found there seemed to be physical/mental health advantages in group housing, ad lib roughage, regular and long term turnout, moderate competition use, barefoot hoof care and educated stable managers.

Claire Neveux presented interesting research as to whether classical music could reduce acute stress in domestic horses, as it does for humans. By inserting Bluetooth earphones into horses ears and securing with a fly bonnet, the team played classical music (Forest Gump theme music) to horses in situations which normally induce stress.

They tested a group of horses (4-6yo) during transport and farriery measuring heart rate and physical stress indicators. The horses were tested before, during and after the stressor. Those listening to classical music showed decreased stress during the stressor, and had a faster post-stress heart rate recovery than those without music.

Next up we had Lorna Cameron lead on from a topic from last years conference looking at breast support in female riders, and the pain accounted with breast displacement. The study measured breast movement in women on a simulator horse with a daily bra, a sport bra and no bra, and asked for feedback from participants about pain. They found that sitting trot (and in particular extended trot sitting) caused the most discomfort, and that support greatly improved with an appropriate sport bra, as opposed to a daily bra. Surprisingly, the majority of horse riding women used a normal bra for riding, despite feeling breast pain. Pain levels reported were not as high as runners, however this could be due to horse riders being more accustomed to pain than non horsey people. We’re a tough group! More study is planned into whether rider position effects breaths movement.

After morning tea we heard from Agnès Olivier regarding the contribution of sensory information in horse-rider coupling according to the skill of the rider. She tested a group of 14 skilled riders and 12 novice riders on a simulator under different conditions of sensory disturbance:
* Obscured vision
* Without audition
* Disrupted proprioception
They measured head-trunk movement, upper arm and lower limb movements.
The results showed that skilled riders did not change their mode of coordination, remaining more synchronised with the simulator and that novice riders’ movement was largely in the wrists, which directly links to the horses mouth, which could affect horse welfare. Interestingly, obscured vision improved synchronisation and wrist displacement in novice riders. Riding blindfolded is probably not a good idea, but perhaps simulator riding would help novice riders before moving to the real thing.

Emma Persson Sjödin presented her study on whether rider position influences movement symmetry in straight line trot, which is especially relevant in ridden veterinary exams. By fixing a device on the horse’s head, pelvis and right foreleg, researchers could measure movement symmetry in the trotting horse. The conclusion of this study showed that an uneven position in rising trot significantly increases movement asymmetry to the hind limbs, compared to sitting trot. The degree of asymmetry is comparable to mild lameness. The practice of alternating the riders sitting diagonal to put equal strain on the hind legs is supported by this study.

Next Lorna Cameron presented a study on whether a saddle positioned laterally to the horse’s spine affected rider biomechanics whilst cantering. By using markers positioned on the cantle of the saddle, the horses spine at the base of the tail and the riders spine and shoulders, researchers could evaluate the effect an uneven or rolled saddle had on the riders position. The results showed that saddle laterality to the horses spine affected the riders hips and leg length. It suggests that common rider issues such as ‘collapsing of the hips’ or needing to adjust stirrup length on one side could be related to saddle fit.

The last session before lunch was presented by Sandra Kuhnke testing rein tension to determine equine laterality. They began by testing which foreleg the horse’s favoured, i.e. which leg to they put forward when grazing; when investigating novel objects, etc. They then measured rein tension under-saddle in the walk, trot and canter in both directions on straight lines and circles. No correlation was found linking the two, however they did notice that mean tension on the right rein was dominant, even though riders placed more pressure on the outside rein in both directions. Rein tension in horse-rider-combinations of the same laterality was more stable which might be beneficial for training.

After lunch we had a plenary from Clèmence Lesimple on favouring positive working conditions to improve horse welfare. She looked at many aspects of horse human interactions and ways to improve interactions. Research into the the condition of horses in 3rd world countries showed that 20% of working horses had lesions on their body, and 31% has lesions on their lips. This is largely due to ill fitting equipment to work needs to be done to assist by supplying better equipment and educating people.

Studies in riding schools showed that the posture of horses affected their physiological health. High, hollow conformation resulted in more cases of musculoskeletal disorders than horses with a more rounded posture. In relation to that point, the way horses are ridden in riding schools also influenced posture. Those who were ridden head high and hollow had more musculoskeletal damage than those ridden in a lower frame.

Studies of stereotypical behaviours in horses kept in stables at a riding school showed that jumping horses seemed to show stereotypes through licking more, whereas dressage and vaulting horses showed more cribbing and tongue lolling stereotypes.

ISES president Cammie Heleski presented research into the relationship between heart rate variability behaviour and social isolation in horses. Researchers tested 8 Arabian horses by placing them for 5 minutes in an arena away from other horses. They measured stress by measuring some behaviours as distressed (neighing, defecating etc) and separately recording behaviours that were linked to physicality such as trotting, cantering etc. After analysing the data they could get an indication of a psychological stressed heart rate as opposed to physical exertion heart rate. This is a small step towards being able to measure stress, separate from physicality.

Next up Oral Doherty presented her findings of noseband tightness on competition horses. There has been a lot of research to show that tight nose bands cause pain, tissue damage and boney changes, not to mention psychological stress. A tight noseband can measure up to 400mmHg. To put that into perspective, a tourniquet used by nurses on humans to restrict blood flow for blood samples and operations is tightened to between 230-350 mmHg. If this is enough to restrict blood flow, imagine what an even higher pressure does to the horses facial nerves, blood flow and general comfort.

Orla visited horse shows worldwide, including some elite level international shows measuring noseband pressure on horses of varying disciplines. She used the ISES Taper Guage which measures a span of 1 or 2 fingers between the nasal plane and the noseband. Of 737 horses measured, only 7% had a 2 finger gap, 18% had a 1.5 finger gap, 23% had a 1 finger gap, 8% had a .5 finger gap, and a whopping 44% could not even fit the taper gauge under the noseband to measure. These findings show how unregulated competitions are, and how uneducated the horse industry is to such a huge issue.

Following on from Orla, Paul McGreevy presented his research into how tight nosebands affect the horse physically, measuring eye temperature and cardiac responses.

When bit pressure is strong, we know horses ball their tongue towards the back of their mouth to pad pressure from the bit, or they grip the bit with their molars. Both need an mouth open to be affective, so tightening a noseband to prevent the horse from opening his mouth means the pain is inescapable from relenting pressure.
As a horse moves its jaw, noseband pressure can range from 200-400mmHg. Upward transitions and jumping cause an increase in pressure so we need to be conscious of that when fitting nosebands.

Paul measures eye temperature and heart rate on 12 horses with nosebands varying from unfastened, 2 fingers, 1 finger and 0 fingers. He saw a peak in heart rate and eye temperature when fastened to 0 fingers and a restriction of chewing and swallowing. A dose related physiological stress response is linked to the inhibition of these behaviours. It’s hard to tell whether the stress comes from the pressure or the deprivation of being able to chew and swallow, or both. Paul finished with a strong statement on this topic: relentless pressure to eliminate oral behaviours in pursuit of competitive advantage cannot be justified.

After the break we heard from Sabrina Briefer-Freymond studying the crib biting behaviour in horses in relation to their learning. Sabrina tested 19 crib biters and 18 non-crib biters in a learning test. There were no major differences in learning or behaviour between the two groups, but it was noticed that when testing the crib biters, some cribbed during the test. Those horses showed a lower heart rate than the crib biters who didn’t. This suggests that crib biting lowered their stress levels, and it is therefor used as a stress reliever. It’s probably better for their mental welfare to allow crib biters to practice the behaviour.

Machteld van Dierendonck presented her research on measuring equine pain: a validation of two composite pain scales for general pain expression and facial expression of pain. She measured pain in 25 patients who were admitted for acute colic. They scored the horse for physiological indicators such as heart rate, respiratory rate and borborygmi, as well as physical signs of pain such as posture, laying down, sweating, tail swishing. They used the two pain recognitions scales: EQUUS COMPASS and EQUUS FAP. They found that although there were pros and cons for both, they are both useful instruments when assessing pain for behavioural problems or equine welfare issues.

Kym Griffin then presented interesting research on the nighttime resting behaviour of ridden and individually housed horses. She pointed out that horses have two modes of sleeping. Slow Wave Sleep is mostly the sleep horses have when standing up, or sitting resting on their sternum. REM sleep is only possible laying flat. Horses sleep for approximately 3-5 hours a day, with as little as 30 minutes REM sleep. The amount and type of sleep is largely influenced by social grouping, pasture types, weather, age, time of day, nutrition and familiarity with surrounds.

It was found that non ridden horses generally rested more than ridden horses, however ridden horses spent more time laying down. More research is going into this area in future.

And finally, the last presentation of the day and to close the conference was by Anja Zollinger with the ‘social box’ experiment to offer stallions the possibility to have increased social interactions. Stallions act in groups in the wild with very few injuries, however it’s common practice with the domestic stallion (and especially the competition stallions) to keep them in isolation. We know how detrimental isolation is to a horse, so why must stallions endure this?

Anja set up an experiment with 16 breeding stallions who were in conventional stables normally, and constructed a ‘social box’ – two stables with an open section allowing the stallions to interact. The dividing stable wall was cut and replaced with vertical open bars allowing enough room for the horses to poke their neck through to the others’ stable. 24hr video footage was recorded over 3 weeks. The behaviours were measured as positive (gentle interaction) and negative (aggressions) and any injuries were recorded. The results showed that in the social box a total of 51 minutes of interaction per day was recorded as opposed to 5 minutes in the conventional box. Out of those 51 minutes, 37 minutes we’re positive behaviours (4 minutes in conventional box) and 4 minutes of negative (1 minute in social box). The injuries were no worse than superficial bites (hair off only).

The videos of the behaviours were really interesting and wonderful to see two stallions interacting without the expected aggression. It was a wonderful presentation to end the day on a very positive note.

Wow, what a day! If you are interested in seeing the conference proceedings or any of the live footage, head to the ISES website www.equitationscience.com

That’s about it from me until ISES 2017! I’m so excited to see what’s next in Wagga Wagga, Australia, in November next year. I hope a lot of you reading can come and experience it for yourself, it really is inspiring.

Great to see so many of our graduates and new students attend the conference in Saumur. Such a passionate and determined bunch of people – we’re so lucky thave them on board. Thanks Helen, our course coordinator for coming along and helping chat to people at our stand.

Thanks for reading! Sophie 🙂