Researchers have conducted a large amount of research on horse health and well-being and on rider injury and injury prevention. However, they’ve conducted less research on female equestrian health and wellness over riders’ lifespans. An international group of researchers and experts aim to remedy this gap in knowledge by participating in a community of practice (CoP).

The idea for a CoP stems from research by Karin Pekarchik, who conducted a survey in the spring of 2017 on female equestrian breast discomfort/pain and other health issues. Pekarchik and her research collaborator Kimberly Tumlin, PhD, of the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Public Health, have been working with British researchers Jenny Burbage, PhD, of the University of Portsmouth, and Lorna Cameron, of Sparsholt Centre College, both in England, to better understand breast health and discomfort that limits riding.

As first reported by Pekarchik and Tumlin at the 7th Annual UK Equine Showcase, 75% of all professional female riders who participated in the survey reported breast pain within the last year, a higher percentage than nonprofessionals, and riding activity resulted in a higher proportion of professional equestrians with small cup sizes reporting pain.

From these data and the initial collaboration, Pekarchik and Tumlin recognized that additional aspects of female equestrianism were under-researched. That inspired them to start the community of practice. By connecting researchers and industry experts globally, they believe that a collective understanding of the influences on health and wellness of equestrians can be established and sustained through collaborative funding efforts and educational outreach to promote both horse and human health.

Organized and moderated by Pekarchik and Tumlin, the Female Equestrian Health and Wellness CoP has more than 26 members, including experts from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, England, and Australia. The CoP will meet six times a year to share information on ongoing trends and research discoveries within different areas of emphasis. Examples of these areas include engagement in equestrian sport, cumulative injuries, environmental exposures, occupational safety, pain and quality of life considerations, breast biomechanics, and systems designs and engineering.

The first meeting of the CoP took place on May 15. At the conclusion of the first year, the CoP will publish a white paper that will delineate areas of strengths and weaknesses and identify research priorities for the female equestrian.

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Karin Pekarchik, a senior extension associate for Distance Learning within UK’s Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, provided this information.

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