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ISES Rome 2018 – Day 1 & 2

Hello from Rome!! We have arrived in the beautiful Rome and we’ve been swooning over their state of the arc facilities and gorgeous warm weather!

Sorry this blog is a few days late but this conference has been absolutely jam packed! Activites from 9am – 11pm leaves little time for me to sit down somewhere quiet and write this blog, but now I have finally a spare moment to get my thoughts on to paper before they fade away.

Usually I report on each and every presentation but I have to apologise that this year will be slightly different. With nearly 20 papers presented each day it’s difficult to summarise every one so I have summarised almost all, and for those I miss I will still include the title so that if it stands out to you and you would like to know more, you can have a look at the proceedings on the ISES website.

On Friday, we started at the original base of the very historically famous Frederico Caprilli. We were in a beautiful room with archways, pillars and historical art all over the walls. After initial registration we sat down for a workshop with Kate Fenner to discuss the new EBARQ survey. This is a questionnaire designed for horse owners to report on their horses behaviours and management as well as rider experience etc. As a tool for riders and horse owners, it’s fantastic for reflection and documentation, and it also has great use for researchers as it is a hub of data about horse behaviour, management and training. Already in practice is the canine version (CBARQ) which is hugely successful so the possibility of this for the quine world is exciting. EBARQ 2.0 will be available soon, it’s having the final touches added in.

After this workshop was supposed to be another workshop about new technologies for Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in horses, however the weather predicted rain so we had a series of lectures about the modern techologies used to measure HR and HRV in humans and horses. David Marlin made a short presentation on the reliability of HR and HRV monitors, noting their lack of reliability for sound data – he noted that an ECG is far more accurate and reliable. Unfortunately, ECG’s are not easy to obtain so the majority of research (especially conducted by students) for preliminary studies are still based on information from HR and HRV monitors. Hopefully someday with more funding and technology researchers can have easier access to better tools for measuring these factors.

Before we could all have a welcome drink and catch up, we had a wonderful presentation by Dominic Bergero about Frederico Caprilli’s heritage. Caprilli is particularly famous for revolutionising equitation by changing the style for jumping. Traditionally, riders rode horses over jumps leaning backwards with strong pressures on the horses mouth (cringeworthy to look at if I’m to be honest!) but Caprilli introduced the new position of leaning forward and softening the hands. I think horses and riders should be very grateful for Caprilli’s work!! Caprilli picture below.

After a welcome drink and some food we sat down to listen to the revised 10 Principles of Training with Andrew McLean. Not a whole lot has changed as far as the principles go, however they have been modified to be easier understood by the average, non scientific person and a new principle has been added. The new 10 Principles of Training will be available soon via the ISES website! We will also share them to our facebook page as soon as they are released to the public.

We ended late in the evening, ate some delicious pasta and went to bed to prepare for a full day the next day.

Day 2 was situation at ‘Ippodromo di Tor Di Quinto’ which is an absolutely gorgeous military and performance venue just 15 minutes from the centre of Rome. We sit in a large grandstand and behind the speaker is an amazing gallop track, cross country course and multiple dressage and jumping arenas – all impeccably maintained. Whilst I did listen to every presentation, my mind did slip away occasionally dreaming of riding on this amazing grounds!! – pictured below:

The morning session was all about ‘Good Training’. The first speaker up we had Janne Winther Christensen talking about stress and learning in horses. In the wild, horses are exposed to stressors such as aggression, predators, weather and feed/water availability, but in domestic horses it’s stress relating to transportation, isolation, training etc. The Long term affects of stress are increased cortisol, adrenal weight, aggressive behaviour, heart disease, infection and ulcers etc, as well as decreased reproductive capabilities, learning and memory and immune system. The effects of stress are based on genetics, pre and post natal affects (such as a stressed / fearful mother) and individual experience (interesting fact – an embrio transferred to a surrogate mare, can take on characteristics that mare, so it does matter who you use as a surrogate!). Predictability and control can reduce the affects of stress, so we can assume that correct operant conditioning can possibly reduce stress in horses.

Janne set up a trial to test this. Horses were trained to follow a cue with negative or positive reinforcement. ½ of the horses had been exposed to a stressor beforehand, and the other half hadn’t. Those who had been exposed to a stressor prior to learning the task were much slower at learning, particularly those trained with positive reinforcement.

Next up, it was research on the stress response when horses are being bitted for the first time (N Bradley). This was a study on a group of horses under 4 years old who had never been bitted before, being bitted for the first time using the traditional method (put bridle on, allow habituation to bit). She then used eye temperature data, HR and behaviour to record stress levels over 5 minutes over 3 sessions in 3 days. Her study showed no real difference in eye temperature or behaviour over the 3 days however HR did decrease over the 3 days as the horses habituated to the bit. Future research needs to be conducted to measure other bitting methods.

Gemma Pearson then presented research on conflict in thoroughbred horses when approaching the starting gates. She observed 283 horses between 2-6yrs for signs of conflict such as kicking, swinging hindquarters, stalling, rearing etc and rated them on a scale. Only 29% of horses walked straight in, and of the 67% who didn’t, she recorded 299 conflict behaviours. Interestingly, the more gate training the horse had, the more likely they were to show conflict approaching the gate which signifies problems in training by the handler/riders. 81% of the conflict behaviours were behaviours such as bucking and backing up which are clearly related to the problems with Go. Thoroughbred trainers need to emphasise training clearer responses to ‘go’ in-hand.

Ute Konig then presented her research on horse learning with different training schedules (daily compared to every 3 days). She tested 39 horses between 2-28 years learning a new task and split them into two groups – daily training and training every 3 days. The results showed that early on there was some faster learning with daily training (as horses were getting more sessions in the timeframe than those with gaps), however the actual learning rate was the same in both. So for those of you who feel guilty if they can’t ride their horse every day – stress less! Your horse does not forget his training (providing of course you train him clearly) 😉

After a quick coffee and cake break we sat down to Carol Hall talking about the horse’s visual adaptation to light. Carol and her team ran a test in an indoor arena, half lit up and half dark with horses navigating an obstacle course the horses had been pre-tested on. She then tested the horse’s heartrate and ability to navigate through the course in normal time to see whether the change from light to dark had any affect on them. The results showed that it took approximately 20 minutes for the horses eyesight to adjust which gives us food for thought when taking them out of a light filled stables to a paddock in the dark etc.

We then had an interesting presentation on thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses (K Merkies). This study used saddle fit data from various saddle fitters from 492 horses to look at the slope of the scapula, muscle of the shoulder, whither length, saddle support area, back curvature, back shape, muscling of the withers and evenness of the shoulder & pelvis. The result showed that different breed varies in measurements, and measurements were also affected by age, height (taller horses had longer saddle support) and training (higher level training had a flatter back). Measurements also showed that the left was larger than the right side which could be due to left sided dominance in handling etc, as well as rider asymmetry. She concluded that saddle makers need to be aware of horse’s asymmetries and take that into account when designing saddles.

Following this we had a presentation on the affects of separation anxiety when horses are on the Horse Walker (C Cuthbert). This study measured heartrate, heart rate variability and behaviours when observing horses on the horse walker both with a companion and alone. Results showed a lower HR with a companion, increased HRV (which indicated lowered stress) and decreased stress behaviours. Stress was found to be reduced when the horses were walking with a companion, but it was noted that generally the stress levels were still relatively high regardless of companions on the horse walker, so owners need to be aware of this if they use them.

Next up we looked at a kinematic analysis of rider position on a simulator compared to a horse (T Bye). The test involved 12 riders for 3 strides of sitting trot on a simulator horse and their own horse, and then measured the angles of the shoulder, hip, knee and overall straightness of upper and lower body. The results showed riders hip to heel measurement was straighter on the simulator, so because riders found it easier to maintain leg position on the simulator it could be good to improve muscle memory in practice. Rider hip asymmetry increased on their own horse, and most riders who normally ride multiple horses had a more adaptive position between both the simulator and horse, whereas those who just rode one horse regularly were more inclined to fall into the same asymmetries.

The simulator shows riders ‘true’ asymmetries, but the differences between simulator and horse need to be taken into account if using a simulator for riding research.

We then heard about whether a skilled rider increased or decreased a horses asymmetry while riding (A Egenvall). Horses were measured for asymmetry when riderless and ridden, and the results showed that horses are more symmetrical when riderless except in trot, where riders where able to make horses more symmetric.

Just before lunch we were treated to a presentation by the very well known and respected biomechanics expert Dr Hilary Clayton. She presented her research on the comparison of rider stability in a flapless saddle versus a conventional saddle. The study tested the range of motion in walk, trot & canter (collected & extended) with a single rider and 5 different horses using both a flapless and conventional saddle. She used saddle pressure technology as well as individual stride analysis through video to measure variances. The results showed less side to side movement in a flapless saddle in all gaits, as well as less back to back movements, and less range of motion. The rider was more consistent stride to stride which suggests that a flapless saddle may be a better saddle to clearly communicate consistently with the horse.

Lunch was served in front of the stables with delicious pasta, salads and wine, a much needed rest for the brain!

Despite the carbohydrate fatigue (nothing a good Italian espresso can’t fix!) we felt ready and excited for the afternoon’s presentations. First up we learned about the research into horse posture in relation to back pain (M Hausberger). Their study found that riding schools tended to have horses with a similar posture, which suggests a particular style of riding/training. It was suggested that certain neck postures (free) had less back problems.

Along the similar topic, we then heard about the application of ridden horse pain ethogram to video recordings of lame horses before & after diagnostic analgesic by trained and untrained assessors (A Ellis). The ethogram uses 24 markers for lameness (facial, body and gait), which 10 observers used to assess various horses. 5 were trained in the use of the ethogram, 5 were not. Results showed that those using the ethogram were more reliable at diagnosing lameness than those who weren’t.

Next we heard about the difficulty of assessing temperament for horses in equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT). After providing staff with a questionnaire about the EAAT horse’s temperaments, the horses were then tested to see whether the behaviour indicators varied. Using various methods to test the temperament of the horses (starling, tactile, human approach) is was concluded that there was little agreement of behaviour assessment amongst EAAT staff, so a proper and thorough test and training is recommended to accurately assess a horse’s temperament for this type of work.

The social bonds between horses has always been questioned, particularly now with owners shifting more towards group housing, so the presentation of the parameters for the analysis of social bonds in horses (K Krueger) was one I was looking forward to. This study observed a group of 146 feral horses from various groups to look at their grooming habits, social proximity and friendly approach behaviour to analysis the social bonds amongst these groups. It was shown that there were strong correlations between friendly approach behaviour and allo-grooming, whereas social proximity did not seem to have a link to grooming. They concluded that friendly approach and mutual grooming produces robust data for social bond analysis.

Following on from social studies, we heard about the Significance of group composition for the welfare of pastured horses (H. Sigurjonsdottir). This group studied 426 Icelandic horses in Iceland for group composition indicators. (Interesting fact – the Icelandic horse is the only horse found in Iceland. Other breeds of horses are never allowed to be imported, and once exported even the Icelandic horse can’t return. As a result they have a stable immune system with no cases ever of Strangles or Equine influenza). The groups of horses are pastured in various of age and sex. It was recognised that allo-grooming and play are a sign of well-being and a way to form bonds with other groups. Agonistic behaviors are rare in family groups and stable groups, but frequent in young horses and in winter. Grooming was more frequent in small groups and mixed groups of young horses.

After an afternoon tea break (strong coffee and more cake) we sat down for the final presentations of the day. First up we looked at equine recumbent sleep deprivation and the mental and physical health implications (C Fuchs). Horses can only have REM sleep when laying down, and severe lack of REM sleep leads to ‘collapses’ where the horse can simply no longer stand up. A lack of REM sleep may come from stress, inadequate space to lay down, injury preventing laying down (such as a fractured bone) or pain. The study comprised of a questionnaire sent to 177 horse owners who’s horses had experienced collapsing. The results showed that the main cause of collapsing is environment (change of stable/agistment, area too small to adequately lie down) and that 25% of ‘collapsars’ were windsuckers/weavers, which we know has a strong relation to stress. The videos of the horses collapsing were quite alarming, it would be quite an awful thing to see in real life I’m sure, and really made me think of the ethics behind rehabilitating a horse with a broken bone etc if it leads to such awful repercussions such as this.

Next up we heard about injury incidence and locomotor patterns in polocrosse ponies (K Yarrell). Polocrosse is a relatively new sport, with some differences to polo such as one rider to one horse. Injury rates are relatively high as Polo horses experience abrupt acceleration and deceleration & sharp directional changes, so this team wanted to investigate further.  They studied the reports of 166 polo ponies that were removed from competition due injury (mostly lameness). 66 of injured horses were from defence position (P3). 35 in attack (P1), 15 in midfield (P2). It was hypothesised that the reason injuries are so much higher in the defence position is that as a defender, riders can’t predict the movement of the attackers so the horses are subject to sharper acceleration, deceleration and turns with less warning from the riders.

Finally to complete the day we heard about a Statistical approach to identifying pain classifiers based on Horse Grimace Scale (E Dalla Costa). This team sourced 294 images and then had various observers rate these images on pain indicators. The rate of agreement of observation was high which confirmed that the Horse Grimace Scale is a very reliable tool for identifying pain.

Wearied eyed and brained we had very fast trip back to the hotel, where we dressed for the social evening and caught the bus back within the hour. The social evening was really lovely, great food, plenty of wine, dancing and a very funny DJ who entertained the crowd with his dance moves.

Bed at midnight to prepare for another huge day on Sunday!

That’s it from me for a day or so, I’m at Abu Dhabi airport ready for my last flight home. Can’t wait to see my ponies!! Sitting in front of that amazing view all day has me itching to ride!

Stay tuned for my write up on Day 3 & 4.