Striding out with equine dissertation

  For my dissertation project, I chose to investigate how a rider can influence the movement of a horse; specifically how the position of the leg affects equine biomechanics. This sounds really complex but it basically means that I am studying the way in which a horse moves, such as its stride length, elevation and extension and flexion of muscle groups. Equestrianism is an expanding global market with billions of pounds being spent every year on maintaining the fitness and health of horses. Riders are often the primary cause of equine back problems so understanding the specific impacts on position in the saddle is crucial in the prevention and remediation of equine injuries.

I needed to film the movement of ridden horses so that I could digitally map any changes they displayed. I chose 15 fit and healthy horses and (after much begging and many favours) I recorded them at a walk and trot pace with their usual rider. I asked the riders to ride with both short stirrups and long stirrups, in order to change their leg position. Once I had the recorded footage the next step was to analyse the clips using Quintic® biomechanical analysis software. I mapped the movement of the horse’s legs to determine stride length and looked at angles of flexion in both the front and hind fetlocks as well as shoulder, head and neck angles. 

The initial results suggest that the fetlock shows greater flexion when the riders stirrups are shorter. There is also a clear correlation between stride length and stirrup length, with the horse extending more when the stirrups were shorter. Following on from this I am investigating further into the specific impact of stirrup length on equine limb extension and flexion; shoulder and neck extension and flexion and differences in velocity and pace.

I have really enjoyed the freedom and in-depth study that the dissertation project offers, building on the things I learned in the level 5 Equine Biology module. Conducting your own research around a topic that interests you is a fantastic experience and I feel that I have developed many skills that I could take forward into any future role or study.  

Lucy Murrell, BSc Animal Biology final year student

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