Take vibrating platforms, for instance. Equestrians across a variety of disciplines report improved performance and injury healing when their horses stand on them regularly. Still, research on the topic is in its infancy, and scientists haven’t confirmed whether time spent on a vibrating plate has any impact—positive or negative—on horses.
So, a team from Michigan State University (MSU), in East Lansing, recently set out to find answers. At the 2017 Equine Science Society Symposium, held May 30-June2, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Chelsea Nowlin, a veterinary student at MSU presented the results of her undergraduate research. She worked under the direction of Brian Nielsen, PhD, PAS, Dipl. ACAN, professor of exercise physiology in MSU’s Department of Animal Science.
Nowlin and colleagues hypothesized that horses that underwent vibration platform treatment would have different physiologic parameters than those that did not.
The researchers used six Arabian geldings for the study. Two veterinarians specializing in sports medicine conducted a lameness exam on each horse and noted any potential lameness, gait deficits, and limited flexibility. Then, the team pair-matched the horses based on their age, sex, lameness scores, and stride length and assigned one horse from each pair to stand on a vibrating platform and the other to stand on an adjacent vibrating platform that was not turned on.
Nowlin said the researchers evaluated both short-term (or acute) and long-term effects. The acute test included one 30-minute vibration session, while the long-term phase consisted of treatment five days per week for three weeks. The same sports medicine veterinarians performed lameness exams on each horse immediately following their acute test and after the last treatment in the long-term phase.
Ultimately, the team found “no differences pre- and post-treatment between the vibration therapy and control groups in any of the parameters measured,” Nowlin said.
However, they did observe behavioral differences.
“Although quantitative behavior measurements were not taken, qualitative notes on behavior were made, and although subjective, it was consistently noted that behavior improved throughout the three-week prolonged phase,” she said. “All vibration therapy horses stood better and appeared to relax with each treatment, while control horses were restless by comparison.”
Nowlin said this finding could help explain why so many equestrians believe in vibration therapy’s positive effects even though none of the parameters measured changed after treatment.
Another reason owners might report an improvement in their horses’ conditions following long-term vibration plate use is, quite simply, time.
“Time is one of the greatest healers,” Nielsen told The Horse. “When people observe their horse getting better after using a vibrating platform for a period of time, it is quite likely due to healing that would have occurred regardless of whether the horses were being treated or not.”
He added that horses appearing to enjoy the vibrating platform after a few days “could provide evidence that it is having a benefit. … However, maybe it is simply like taking a baby for a car ride to get it to go to sleep. Possibly the vibrating motion of the platform works in a similar fashion in horses.”
Ultimately, he said, in this study, “regardless of the reason for horses appearing more sedate when standing on a vibrating platform, we saw no differences in lameness between those that were treated and those that were untreated.”