A study of French trotting horses confirms the association between training on hard footing and musculo-skeletal injuries.
Researchers at the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort in Maisons-Alfort and the INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research) monitored 12 healthy French Trotters through four months of race training. The horses were divided into pairs based on size and weight, then each horse in each pair was randomly assigned to work over a track with a hard surface or a soft surface. All of the horses underwent a variety of diagnostic imaging, including radiography, ultrasonography, nuclear scintigraphy and magnetic resonance imaging, before the study period began and again two and four months into the training program.
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The horses were found to have 46 lesions that were considered clinically relevant---meaning that they could result in lameness or poor performance---with 18 of those classified as moderate to severe. Fifteen of the 18 moderate to severe lesions were found in horses training over the harder track surface. In addition, researchers found lesions on the superficial digital flexor tendons of three of the six horses trained on the hard track, but none of the horses on the softer track. Injury to the bones of the fetlock were also more common in horses training on the hard track surface.
Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that “track surface firmness is a risk factor for musculoskeletal injuries in horses trained for harness racing.”
Reference: “Effect of track surface firmness on the development of musculoskeletal injuries in French Trotters during four months of harness race training,” American Journal of Veterinary Research, November 2017
This article was originally published in EQUUS 485, February 2018