Built to Break?

My chats with clients whilst I am treating their horse are often super eye opening. And there have been a few discussions this week in particular that have resonated with me. Unfortunately, it is fairly common practice to treat horses that have been taken advantage of and been pushed to do too much too soon. Where this may line the pockets of the producer or breeder at the the time of purchase, a few months into new ownership often results in the horses ridden career rapidly grinding to a halt. Many owners are left scratching their heads as their talented four year old jumping 1.30m courses is now refusing to even pick up canter.

Competitive Edge – one step too many?

Modern day equestrian concerns fundamentally revolve around the prevention of injury and maintenance of biological equilibrium in order to enhance performance (Hodgson et al., 2014). Yet, as performance boundaries are being constantly challenged and advanced, extensive gait characteristics and locomotive potential are becoming an omnipotent feature of the modern day sports horse. Attention now must be drawn to how we can create expressive gaits in a way that promotes the health of the musculoskeletal system. Upon reflection of this, the desynchronisation of the promotion of physical & psychological equine health and training (notably accelerated/incorrect) can be considered as a fundamental component of pathological developments.

Essentially, are we forfeiting musculoskeletal health in the name of competitive performance with incorrect, accelerated training? Training levels are aligned with competitive aims, and the goal posts are continually moving. In trying to achieve competitive success at a younger age for an unconditioned horse, detrimental chronic adaptations are made to their posture in addition to the repetitive overloading of joints. An example of this can be stifle weakness and instability due to poor conditioning of the quadriceps femoris muscle group.

Tunnel vision training approaches and management routines can play a part in building our horses to break as little attention is given to postural & proprioceptive strength and conditioning. Quite simply, our aim should be to lay the foundations for a strong and healthy musculoskeletal system to develop. Poor foundations lead to crumbling architecture, where fixing the problem now requires far more intervention and commitment than prevention.

Challenging our Role as Architects

The Tacoma Narrow Bridge can be referenced as an example. And you’re probably wondering why a wavy bridge is being mentioned on a veterinary physiotherapy blog!? Hear me out! Earmarked as an architectural failure, the bridge built in Washington was proud to be noted as being the third longest suspension bridge in the world. However, the foundations of the bridge were not at all strong or suitable as it severely oscillated even during its construction. A mere four months after its completion it collapsed due to high winds; its foundations were simply not strong enough to withstand environmental demands and so it was not able to fulfil its job. However, this engineering failure was an experience that was learnt from and has helped to develop future engineering techniques. This is analogous to our role as architects of our horses bodies; failure in our engineering techniques will result in damage, pathology, weakness and eventual collapse.

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