Creating a Sustainable Equine Athlete

Paying attention to certain, sometimes minute, details can help horses enjoy longer athletic careers.

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In a world where "sustainable" has become a million-dollar buzzword, some horse owners might be on the lookout for ways to create sustainable equine athletes. According to a British equitation scientist, if we pay attention to certain details–like good conformation, good footing, progressive training programs, well-rounded exercise programs, body condition, and subtle signs of lameness–we can help our horses enjoy longer sports careers.

"Musculoskeletal injury is the most common cause of days lost from work and horses lost, in all equine sports," said Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England. "I believe the prevention of injury and early recognition of injury are key for a sustainable athlete, both physically and mentally."

"Prevention" includes recognizing conformation problems that are risk factors for lameness, Dyson said during a lecture opening the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Recent research has shown, for example, that horses taller than 170 cm (16.3 hands) have a 15% greater risk of becoming lame than horses 163 cm (16 hands) or shorter. Additional research has shown that taller horses also end up with shorter competitive careers

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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