Female Equestrians Needed for Study on Breast Health
Ladies, are you still in search of that elusive piece of riding equipment—a bra that actually offers adequate support in the saddle—and suffering painful consequences in the meantime? You’re not alone.

As part of her master’s thesis, a UK researcher is conducting a study of female equestrian health outcomes with an emphasis on breast biomechanics. Karin Pekarchik is a staff member in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) and a graduate student in the department of Community and Leadership Development.

Pekarchik’s dissatisfaction with bras lacking sufficient support for a sitting trot led to her collaboration with researchers in the United Kingdom studying female equestrians’ breast biomechanics.

Along with Kimberly Tumlin, PhD, UK College of Public Health, Pekarchik is collaborating with Jenny Burbage, PhD, University of Portsmouth Department of Sport and Exercise Science, in the U.K., and Lorna Cameron, of the Sparsholt College Faculty of Equine and Applied Animal Science, in Winchester, U.K. Both teams are interested in how breast discomfort/pain and ill-fitting, poorly performing bras limit desire to ride.

In “An investigation into prevalence and impact of breast pain, bra issues, and breast size of female horse riders,” (Journal of Sports Sciences, 2016), Burbage and Cameron surveyed 1,324 women regarding the impact of breast size and discomfort have on riding. Their survey showed that 40% of women suffer from breast pain, most frequently at the sitting trot, and this pain can be a deterrent for riding participation. Their survey highlighted some of the issues of breast discomfort during riding and that educational steps regarding bra design and fit that are needed.

Pekarchik adapted Burbage’s and Cameron’s breast-focused survey to include a more general health focus to determine female equestrian health issues and outcomes over life stages. Female equestrians can start riding early in life and can ride well into their 70s and beyond, which is unusual in sports. While much research has been devoted to the equestrian athlete, less has been conducted on the human partner. Physical issues (excluding concussion and bone breakage, which are covered elsewhere in the scientific literature) that can limit riding are of great interest, as is the public health aspect of building an educational program to help mitigate breast discomfort and other health factors that can keep women out of the saddle.

The study is part of a larger project for Pekarchik and Tumlin, who are the “clients” to an engineering senior design team that is using a two-semester course to apply engineering principles to design a better equestrian sports bra. Additionally, Pekarchik, Tumlin, and BAE engineers Joe Dvorak, PhD, PE, and Josh Jackson, PhD, are working on building a wireless sensor system that will allow Burbage and Cameron to gather breast biomechanics data in the field on horseback, rather than simulating riding on a mechanical horse.

Complete the team’s survey, “Attitudes, behaviors, and areas of educational opportunity for female equestrians toward bra use and health outcomes when engaged in equestrian sports,” at uky.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_dm9h9FjQc0RUHKB. The survey will be available to respondents until March 19.

Karin Pekarchik, senior extension associate for distance learning within UK’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering and master’s candidate within Community and Leadership Development.

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