A Comparison of Back Flexibility in Show jumping, Dressage and Leisure Horses.

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation at Conference


IntroductionMethods for evaluating flexibility of the back have been established (Licka and Peham, 1998), however there are limited studies into healthy asymptomatic horses and very few comparisons between equestrian disciplines (Johnston et al, 2004). Flexion and extension of the back has been found to decrease in horses with back pain however it is unknown whether flexibility of the back could be a predisposing or resulting factor of successful competition performance (Wakeling et al, 2006). The aim of this study was to compare dorsoventral flexibility of the back between Show jumping, Dressage and Leisure horses and gain an insight into differences of athletic management between groups.Materials & MethodsThirty Warmblood horses aged 7 to 15 years with no history of back problems were used; 10 dressage, 10 show jumping and 10 leisure. Markers were placed on the dorsal midline above vertebrae T5, T10, T16, L3, S1 and S5, and reflexes were used to produce thoracic extension, thoracic flexion and lumbosacral flexion of the spine. These were recorded via video camera and angles were measured using Dartfish Connect, statistical analysis was then completed using Statistical Package for Social Science Version 19.0. Questionnaires were used to gather general information (age, height, breed and gender) for each horse as well as specific information on athletic management.ResultsReflexes were effective at producing movement for all groups at T10, T16, and L3 (P≤0.05), and at S1 for competition horses (P≤0.01) but not leisure horses (P≥0.05). In a cross over design measuring differences in vertebra angle between each posture, significance was found in 75% of comparisons for competition horses and 60% of comparisons for leisure horses (P≤0.05). Significant differences (P≤0.05) in vertebrae angle between groups were found during lumbosacral flexion at T10; extension, thoracic flexion and degree of motion (DoM) at L3 and extension at S1. Leisure and show jumping horses showed smaller mean angles compared to Dressage horses (P≤0.05). Dressage horses showed a 33% larger mean degree of motion at L3 than leisure horses (P≤0.05) and 19% more than show jumpers. There were no significant differences in vertebra angles between Leisure and Show jumping horses (P≥0.05). Questionnaire data revealed Leisure horses spent less time in canter (33%) than Dressage (47.5%) and Show jumping horses (52.5%) during an average schooling session. Frequency of physiotherapy also differed between groups with 70% of Leisure horses receiving physiotherapy longer than once a year compared to 65% of Competition horses who received physiotherapy at least once every 6 months.Discussion & ConclusionThis study concluded competition horses had greater difference of movement between the postures than leisure horses, this could link to the frequency of physiotherapy and time spent in canter, factors which both effect flexion and extension of the back. Dressage horses showed increased flexion of the spine and larger range of movement at L3 than the other groups, this contradicts previous findings by Johnston et al (2004) that show jumpers had greater dorsoventral movement. However due to limited variability of spine length between groups, results from this study can be used as a more reliable comparison where variable spine length may have contributed to previous error. These differences suggest Dressage horses could have increased strength of the abdominal muscles allowing greater flexion of the lumbosacral and sacroiliac joints and restricting the amount of spinal extension, they also indicate potential differences in muscle recruitment between disciplines. Further research could help in determining whether flexibility of the back is a predisposing factor in performance ability, or whether discipline specific training and athletic management could affect flexibility of the back with a performance enhancing potential. This could help with the selection, training and management of young competition horses and promote optimal athletic performance of the equine athlete.ReferencesJohnston, C., Holm, K.R., Erichsen, C., Eksell, P. and Drevemo, S. (2004) Kinematic evaluation of the back in fully functioning riding horses. Equine Veterinary Journal [online]. 36 (6), pp.495-498.Licka, T. and Peham, C. (1998) An objective method for evaluating the flexibility of the back of standing horses. Equine Veterinary Journal [online]. 30 (5), pp.412-415.Wakeling, J, M., Barnett, K., Price, S. and Nankervis, K., (2006) Effects of manipulative therapy on the longissimus dorsi in the equine back. Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology [online]. 3 (3), pp.153-160.
Period30 Apr 2014
Event title4th Alltech Hartpury Student Conference
Event typeConference
LocationGloucester, United KingdomShow on map