Stride changes a sign of increased breakdown risk in racehorses: study

POSTED ON  |  20-06-2022

Decreasing speed and a shortening stride length over multiple races is associated with musculoskeletal injuries in racehorses, Australian researchers have found. The findings in the University of Melbourne study raise the prospect of monitoring stride characteristics over time in a bid to intervene before musculoskeletal injuries occur.

Adelene Wong and her fellow researchers, writing in the Equine Veterinary Journal, noted that certain stride characteristics have been shown to affect changes in biomechanical factors linked with injuries in human athletes.

Considerable research has been directed toward musculoskeletal injuries in racehorses, they said. There is now considerable evidence that catastrophic injuries arise because of bone fatigue, which accumulates over multiple galloping events.
  • “This gradual onset provides the opportunity to identify injuries prior to their occurrence. Because a high proportion of musculoskeletal injuries in racehorses develop over time, it is likely that changes in gait could be useful to detect an impending injury,” they said.
This led to their study, which sought to determine whether changes in race-day speed and stride characteristics over career race starts are linked with greater injury risk. Speed, stride length, and stride frequency data were obtained from the final 200-metre section of 5660 race starts in Tasmania by 584 horses, comprising 146 horses who went on to suffer a race-day musculoskeletal injury, and 438 controls, who did not.

The study team found a gradual increase in the risk of musculoskeletal injury with each 0.1 metre per second decrease in speed. The risk also gradually increased for each 10-centimetre reduction in stride length over time (career race starts).

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