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The past, the present and the future of equine sports science.

1373 Views 8 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Smilie
Horses are pretty much the only athletes on the planet that are selectively bred to excel in their particular discipline. From the moment they are born, elite horses have one purpose. Whether it be racing, jumping, dressage, etc. they are on earth to excel, to win.

Then why is it that when such talented athletes are trained, they are trained solely on opinion? Trainers/riders think their horse is fit, they think their horse is ready for competition, they think their horse is in peak condition, but they don’t actually know.

Advanced and intensive monitoring of elite human athletes has been well documented across most sports. Golf swings are analysed, swimmers respiration is monitored and sprinters track their reaction time.

But the horse is possibly the greatest athlete of all. Selectively bred to ooze power, speed and grace, the horse is the ultimate combination of beauty, ability and trainability. However, there is limited tracking of any aspect of performance in horses. Systematic monitoring barely exists. Strength, endurance, performance, it’s all opinion.

I know great advances have been made in equine sports science in recent years. But are equestrians actually willing to adapt to a technological, data-driven world or are the old ways still considered the best?
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Many trainers are using modern technology to find the peak fitness, heart monitors, breathing monitors and so forth but, what none of these machines can account for is each horse's personality.

A good trainer can tell of a horse is working with relish, whether he is keen on the job,

I do know when I was in a Jump yard that several horses had little quirks. One, a big chestnut gelding, on being given a short fast gallop thenday before the race. Would do his best to drop his rider. If he managed this then he would go out and wiin, if he didn't then he wouldn't.

Machines are well and good but they cannot do it on their own and a good rider and the team behind them will put do any machine.
 

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**** Francis was a champion jockey before he started writing mysteries. He told of a horse he rode many times who was one of the fastest horses in England - when he felt like it. If the owner asked him how they were going to do on a given day, he'd reply, "I'll know at the start". Riding him out to start, there was something about the horse some days that said he felt like kicking butt - and he won every race when he acted like that.

But when he wasn't interested, the jockey was powerless. **** Francis said he finally gave up. If the horse settled in behind everyone else, Francis would make a pretense of whipping him, knowing everyone was going to blame him for losing. There was nothing he could do and he explained it to the owner, who understood. The horse was capable of winning almost any race, but would only do so if he WANTED to win that day.

As for equine research....like all research, it varies greatly in quality and applicability. The study that is used to justify a "20% weight limit" on riders is bogus. It was a badly flawed study due to design. Yet many believe it. OTOH, some interesting work has been done about how horses move that contradicts long-held popular ideas. Most don't even know the studies exist. Others reject them because their 'butt tells them different'. And part of me understands.

Heck, plenty of people claim bits are torture devices without ever attempting to explain why millions of relaxed and contented horses have been ridden for uncounted centuries using bits. Or people will claim that riding with constant contact is harmful, or riding without constant contact means the horse is out of control, while ignoring how many horses are ridden well by riders doing both.

Meanwhile, the scientific consensus on things like "Should you eat eggs, drink milk, use a low carb diet or high carb, drink coffee, drink wine, eat chocolate, etc?" bounces back and forth like a ping-pong ball. It makes it hard to take scientists seriously...

I like reading studies on horses, but I understand why many do not. The mechanics of how horses move and how tack affects how we ride fascinates me, but I understand why very few riders read the research. If science hasn't figured out "Is it OK to eat eggs?", then just how much can it tell us about horses?
 

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As I see it, there are more or less three parts to success in any athlete. First, the requisite physical capability. Second, a suitable temperament for the job (not an exactly measurable item). Third, fitness. It also depends, even for a human, on having the right kind of support. A very good horse could be a great horse with the right rider. So could an impossible horse. Complicated.

One of the reasons for the situation the OP describes is that except for races of all types, contests for horses are mainly judged, not timed. Judging is subjective, dependent upon current fashion among many other things. In other words, not measurable. Opinion.

Fitness is not as poorly understood as all that. Endurance race vet checks, for example, rely heavily on speed of recovery of resting pulse and respiration as a measure of fitness, and it seems to be very accurate. If there was any accurate scientific assessment method not being used in TB racing purely out of superstition, I'd be greatly surprised. Where there are thousands or millions of dollars at stake, people will go to whatever works the best.

The other factor is that 98% of horses are not athletes any more than they need to be to carry a person around in a reasonable fashion, without pain, for a reasonable length of time without falling down. Nor is an indefatigably competitive spirit necessarily all that desirable in an ordinary riding horse.
 

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It doesn't matter what sport it is whether human or horse you are always going to have the 'ideals' of what that athlete should be physically to be the best yet there are going to be very few winners who truly fit that ideal.

I had a wise old horse that I show jumped. If he went clear he would watch other horses do their round until they had a fault. Then he would loose interest. He knew what was expected and wanted to size up the competitors!

With racehorses, the jump horses are more likely to develop 'characters' than flat horses, they are older and in the game longer than the flat horses.

What science cannot do is to give the athlete the determination to win nor can that will be measured.
 

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The Op is not exactly correct, in her assumption/opinion
Those upper end competition horses, better believe all is done to maximize success, using all scientific parameters available. If a certain measurement.,assessment can help a horse succeed, either winning a big purse, or generating breeding/sales prices, through proven performance, it will be used
Training is adjusted, so a horse 'peaks' at a certain time.
Stride lengths of race horses certainly is known, whether the hrose is a sprint hrose, a distance hrose, likes certain ground, ect
More then opinion is used, by trainers, who work with those elite equine athletes
 

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There are degrees, courses available in equine sports Science, so if the OP does not think they meet present demands, perhaps get involved in curriculum, versus a negative statement, based on zero facts or background info, besides the analysis of a golfer's swing!

Equestrian sports are unusual in that they require the co-ordination of effort between the human athlete and the equine athlete. The Equestrian Sports Science degree will enable you to study the athletic combination of horse and rider and develop research into the interaction between the two. You will develop an in-depth knowledge of the support required for horses and riders competing at the highest levels of competition in all aspects of equine sport.

www.hartpury.ac.uk/courses/equine/degree/equestrian-sports-science/

I don't know, but perhaps attend some seminars, like I do, where leading experts in various horse disciplines, and vets, give talks, and where the equine athlete is certainly monitored as competently , as top human athletes, and with documented evidence to that fact
 

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My vet had a clinic on Equine sports science which I attended. The vet talking and explaining about the equipment used was also a lisenced race trainer.

He showed a video of four horses working (galloping) - these were all to race on the flat. All were hooked up to heart monitors and breathing equipment and filmed from a car driven alongside. The measurements were shown on each individual video which he explained.

What I did notice without looking at the numbers was the sound of the breathing as one horse went up a sharp hill towards the end of the gallop, it changed and my experience told me that the horse was either nowhere near as fit as though or, it had a virus though it worked well.

This vet had thousands in research grants, was very interesting yet, after three years with some good horses, only ever had two winners and a handful of places.

A neighbouring farmer's son who took out a permit (could only train his own horses for racing) had limited facilities, very cheap 'throw away' horses that were either bought at auction or given to him., had way more success with winners and placing than the vet. He knew the horses, he had a real feel for each individual animal and that cannot be replaced by a machine.

The horse that is happy in its care is going to give more than the one that isn't.
 

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Also, unless you run horses like Greyhounds, horse sports medicine cannot exist in isolation from that human partnership, which blends those two species, in any united effort
A horse can be at his peak, yet if ridden by a rider he is not tuned into, a rider not fit mentally and physically, he will not perform at his best, no matter what that heart rate monitor or stride analysis shows
 
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