Top studies of 2012


Here’s a look back at some of the most notable, significant or otherwise interesting studies of 2012.

1] Link between ‘saddle slip’ and hindlimb lameness

This study, which was conducted at the Animal Health Trust in the UK, was the first to objectively assess the association between saddle slip and hindlimb lameness in horses, and with some really interesting findings.

Of the horses examined in the study that had hindlimb lameness, just over half exhibited saddle slip (when ridden by at least 2 different riders). In all but 2 of the cases, this saddle slip ceased when the lameness was eliminated by nerve blocking. (In the other 2 cases the saddles were found to be asymmetrically flocked).

Hindlimb lamenesses are often subtle and difficult detect. Saddle-slip, the researchers conclude, may provide an early indication of a low-grade or sub-clinical hindlimb lameness issue.

Some other interesting observations from the study:

  • In most cases the saddle slipped to the side of lame (or lamer) limb.
  • Saddle slip was typically worse on a circle compared to a straight line.
  • Saddle slip was worse in rising trot than in sitting.
  • When saddle slip was due to hindlimb lameness slip was worse with a light-weight rider compared to heavier rider, whereas when saddle slip occurred without lameness, slip was worse with a heavier rider.

Sue Dyson, lead reasercher in the project, provides a great review of the study in Horse & Hound Magazine.

“Link between saddle slip and lameness in horses.” Veterinary Record. 2012;171-15 364.


2] Exercises to strengthen equine back muscles

This study, presented by equine physical therapist Gillian Tabor, MSc, ResM candidate, at the International Society of Equitation Science annual conference, and reviewed by The, builds on the extensive research on back pain and dysfunction in people.

Essentially, what we know is that when a person is suffering from back pain there is often atrophy of the small spinal stabilizing muscles (the multifidus muscles). Pain seems to inhibit their proper functioning, and their proper functioning is essential to maintaining a healthy back.

Earlier research has shown that horses seem to follow this same pattern as well.

In people, certain physiotherapeutic exercises can target and strengthen these muscles – and now there is strong evidence that we can do the same with horse too.  For people with back pain, these exercises, when done regularly, have been shown to decrease the recurrence of back pain significantly.

This study looked at the effect of dynamic mobilization exercises (carrot stretches) on the multifidus muscles of thoroughbred racehorses in training. While half the horses in the study performed the targeted exercises 5 days/week in addition to their normal training, the other half were in regular training only.  Using ultrasound, the researchers observed that the multifidus muscles of the group performing the targeted exercises increased significantly (reaching their maximum size after 6 weeks) while the control group’s multifidus muscles stayed the same size.

This study supports similar findings of another study that looked at the effect of dynamic mobilization exercises in horses that were not in work.

Tabor GF, Johansson C, Randle H.“The effect of dynamic mobilization exercises on the Multifidus muscle in thouroughbred racehorses.” Proceedings of the 8th International Equitation Science Conference, July, 2012.


3] Effects of Massage at the cellular level

This study at McMaster University looked at the effects of massage on the quadriceps muscles post-exercise in healthy active men, compared to no massage. It is one of the first studies to look at how massage affects cellular function at the gene expression level.

Based on the comparison of muscle biopsies, the researchers found that massage appears to reduce the inflammatory response of muscle cells to exercise-induced damage and suggest that this may explain one way massage is able to reduce pain.

Interestingly, this study also showed that massage, contrary to popular belief, does not help to remove lactic acid.

This CBC article offers some of the researcher’s insights.

Crane JD, et al. “Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage.”  Science Translational Medicine. 2012 Feb. Vol 4, (119).


4] The development of one-sidedness in horses

Like people, it’s recognized that horses often have a dominant side. While human handling and training arguably have an influence on the development or reinforcement of this tendency, the extent to which it may be also be a naturally occurring phenomenon has remained poorly understood.

This study sought to look at young horses that were not yet biased by ridden work or traditional handling techniques that favour working with the horse from the left side. A group of foals and 2 year-olds that had been handled bilaterally (equally from both sides) from the time of birth were observed in a round pen and tested for their ability/inability to properly execute a circle at trot. All the horses were healthy and represented the offspring of 14 different sires.

The researchers found the most ambidexterity in foals, the majority of which did not demonstrate a proclivity for one direction over another. Interesting, in the group of 2-year olds, who had also been handled bilaterally from birth and who had not yet begun training, there was an increased tendency towards “derailment” (cutting the circle) to the right. The researches suggest that motor laterality (one-sidedness) in the horse may therefore be something that is acquired over time.

About Lindsay Day, REMT

Lindsay Day is a Registered Equine Massage Therapist and award-winning writer based in Ontario, Canada. She is a graduate of the two-year equine massage therapy program at D'Arcy Lane, and brings to her practice over 20 years experience riding and working with horses. With a strong commitment to promoting the health and welfare of horses through her work, Lindsay uses massage to help horses find ease of movement and comfort in their bodies, so they can feel and perform their best.