Huge majority of endurance vets confronted after eliminating lame horses, study shows *H&H Plus*

  • A huge majority of FEI endurance vets have been confronted by a rider or their associates after eliminating a horse for lameness at a competition, a study has indicated.

    The research, led by Monica Mira, aimed to assess whether endurance vets would benefit from user-friendly technology to help them with gait evaluation.


    The introduction of objective equipment to detect asymmetry could protect vets from pressure from competitors, as well as helping them overcome the difficulties of assessing lameness in a competition setting.

    Of the vets surveyed — 56.1% of whom were from Europe and 16.6% were from the Middle East — 98% said they had been confronted, while 71.3% said they would welcome the move.

    More than half (57.3%) of 157 experienced vets who responded to the questionnaire said they found lameness a challenge to diagnose at events, with 94.3% saying that handler’s failure to trot horses up properly was part of the problem.

    “The findings of this survey suggest that technology to objectively detect and quantify gait abnormalities during endurance competitions would be beneficial to support decisions made by [vets] when evaluating and eliminating horses for lameness,” the report stated.

    The survey was a follow-up to a preliminary study Ms Mira conducted last year alongside Marco Lopes, which looked at the use of portable inertial sensor-based systems (PISBS) for objective gait evaluation at endurance rides.

    The study, which was performed during controlled speed qualifier competitions, initially showed poor correlation between the subjective assessment of the vets and the results of the PIBS, which detected irrelgular gait in 48 out of 70 evaluations.

    The disagreement was no longer detected once the sensitivity of the PIBS was reduced to classify horses with mild gait irregularity as sound. Both vets and competitors reported favourable responses to the technology.

    Ms Mira, who has been an endurance vet since 1998, and has acted as team vet for Portugal, is heavily involved in the sport, also competing herself up to one-star level. She is currently completing a PhD in objective and non-invasive methods to assess horses’ welfare during endurance competitions.

    She added that a follow-up study in the role of the handler during the trot-up will be the next to be published.

    “Because the handler is the main factor affecting the vets’ gait assessment, as shown in the survey, I am now finishing a study where a team is assessing if the handler affects objective systems used to quantify lameness, and if so, how much,” she said.

    A spokesman for the FEI said it had been “following the topic closely” and had been in close contact with “researchers and clinicians leading the field of technology-aided gait evaluation” since 2016.

    “We are already using material from one of the research teams in our general veterinary courses,” the spokesman said. “This study has also been discussed in the veterinary committee and within our group of course directors.”

    The spokesman added, however, that the technology was not at the point where it would be introduced into competitions.

    “Based on our conclusions so far the technologies and scientific backgrounds need further evaluation and development before even being considered as tools at horse inspections at FEI events,” he said.

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