Who’s Involved With Horses
University of Kentucky (UK) researchers Karin Pekarchik, MS, and Kimberly Tumlin, PhD, MPH, MS, are seeking participation for an online research survey to better understand who participates in horse activities and sports.

“Portrait of a Rider: Characterizing Active Participants in Horse Activities and Horse Sports” is a survey that will help qualify socioeconomic factors and type of participation of equestrians, which includes any person (rider, handler, worker, etc.) who interacts with horses. Compared to the number of studies carried out on horses and their health, there’s been little research conducted on equestrians, despite the industry’s global economic importance.

“This survey is an important step in making sure we understand who participates in the industry, where they are, and generally get more detail on their backgrounds,” Pekarchik said. “There are some pressures to participation rates and workforce development in different areas of the industry, and this is one way to give everyone an opportunity to be counted.”

Although there are generalizations about who participates in equine sports, the researchers say it’s unclear if they accurately reflect socioeconomic factors or are simply perceptions based on stereotypes. Pekarchik and Tumlin said they hope to receive completed surveys from at least 1,000 participants, which would allow them to create a statistically valid portrait of who participates in horse activities.

“There are many preconceived notions that being involved in the equine industry is precluded by having economic stability,” Tumlin said. “This survey is aimed at understanding potential disparities that we have observed but are not widely documented in the various sectors of equestrian participation”

The online survey is open to anyone over the age of 18, will be distributed in the United States and internationally, and will be open until March 31. To participate, visit uky.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6qTJQ6H7CT5jMtn.

About the Researchers

An interdisciplinary team, Pekarchik and Tumlin have been conducting equestrian research for several years. Previously, they mentored two UK student groups in an engineering senior design course to address equestrian bra design and use a wireless sensor systems to quantify the lumbar impact of riding on the equestrian’s spine.

Currently, Tumlin and Pekarchik, along with Mike Sama, PhD, PE, an engineer at UK, received funding from the Central Appalachian Regional Education and Research Center to explore impacts of biomechanical forces on the equestrian spine more fully. The funding will support a collaboration with the North American Racing Academy (NARA), the Lexington, Kentucky, race-training program. Students at NARA will participate in both riding and simulated racing experiences while wearing newly-engineered sensor systems designed to measure spine impacts. Eventually, Pekarchik and Tumlin will compare the impacts of riding to other sports activities to better understand the effects on the body.

In 2018, Pekarchik and Tumlin cofounded an international community of practice focused on equestrian health. The community of practice members are researchers, instructors, and practitioners in fields related to equestrianism, and, as a group, they are writing a comprehensive publication that will outline the strengths and weaknesses of the research currently available about equestrian/handler health, making recommendations to further address equestrians’ health and wellness. Broadly, the publication will provide information about who participates in equestrian activities; riding and working with horses across the lifespan; the psychology of riding; and biomechanics, saddle fit, and equipment. The final paper is expected to be published no later than 2021. To learn more about the Female Equestrian Community of Practice, visit https://www.uky.edu/equestrians/.

Karin Pekarchik, MS, is a senior extension associate for distance learning within the UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.

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