The competitive history of endurance horses is important in predicting their likelihood of elimination from a competition, particularly when it comes to lameness, the researchers found.
Endurance is an internationally recognized equestrian sport in which rider-horse pairs compete over distances of up to 160 km per day.
The discipline is governed globally by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and by Endurance GB in Great Britain.
Protecting the welfare of the horse is a key strategic priority within the discipline. However, horse injuries and deaths in top-level racing have led to a negative public perception of the sport.
This has prompted calls for increased safeguards around the welfare of endurance horses to reduce the risk not only to the horse, but also to the discipline and its social license to operate.
Fiona Bloom and her fellow researchers, writing in the Equine Veterinary Journalstated that the identification and reduction of risk factors associated with elimination and lameness has been the focus of endurance research to date.
However, this has focused on international competitions. National federations recognize the need to consider elimination risk factors at a more local level.
The study team set out in their just published study to determine the risk factors associated with horse elimination, in particular lameness elimination, within British endurance racing.
They extracted data for open and advanced horses from Endurance GB’s database, focusing on those who competed in races over 64km during the 2017 and 2018 competition seasons.
The variables were analyzed to see what differences they could identify between horses that were eliminated versus those that were not eliminated, and between lame and healthy horses.
In total, 1747 competitions were analyzed. Horse experience ranged from those in their first competitive season to those who had competed for 15 years. The number of previous competitive starts ranged from 2 to 112. The number of previous eliminations ranged from 0 to 16.
In fact, 23% of the horses had never been eliminated from a competition and 31% had never had a lameness elimination result. The number of prior lameness eliminations ranged from 0 to 14.
Of the 1,747 starts in competition, 542 horses were eliminated, with lameness accounting for 56.1% of eliminations.
The analysis identified a decreased risk of lameness in graded rides compared to racing rides. There was an increased likelihood of elimination and an increased likelihood of lameness when competing in FEI competitions of 2* and above, compared to arenas run under national rules.
Horses ridden by a rider they had never raced before were more than twice as likely to be eliminated and to be eliminated by lameness, compared to horses ridden by a rider they had previously been paired with in competition.
Although speed data was not available, horses in Competitive Endurance Classes (CER) with no upper speed limit were more likely to be eliminated than horses in Graduated Endurance Races (GER) where an upper speed limit set higher speed is applied.
This pattern was repeated for horses participating in FEI rides with no upper speed limit compared to national rides, where the majority (83.8%) had speed restrictions in place.
“Concerns within the sport about increased speeds and the increased likelihood of a negative outcome have been documented by veterinarians who have officiated at the highest level,” the researchers noted.
“Additionally, other studies have shown that increased speeds in the initial phases of running, or sudden changes in rhythm, increase the likelihood of a deleterious outcome.”
Multiple walks over the previous 60 days have been found to increase the chances of horses being eliminated. This, they said, could potentially be linked to a lack of recovery time between competitions.
The benefit of longer rest periods between competitions has been demonstrated internationally, the study team noted.
A significant association was found between elimination due to lameness and previous eliminations of lameness, with horses being 0.5 times less likely to be eliminated lame if their previous lameness dated back 91 to 365 days, compared to horses. horses that had an elimination of lameness within the last 45 days. .
There was a decrease in the likelihood of a lameness elimination when the horse’s previous lameness was more than a year old and a decrease in the likelihood of a lameness elimination if the horse had never been eliminated. for lameness compared to horses that had eliminated lameness in the previous 45 years. days.
“As this study identified that horses are less likely to eliminate lameness if it is more than 90 days since their previous elimination of lameness, consideration should be given to extending these rest periods within competition. nationally based on the reason for elimination,” the study says the team.
“Adopting this approach was successful in reducing the likelihood of elimination in FEI competitions,” they noted.
The authors acknowledged several limitations to their study. Variables that can influence performance such as speed, environmental and topographical conditions were not recorded in the dataset and therefore could not be used in their modeling. In addition, only two seasons of data were analyzed.
“Equestrian sport is recognized in the literature as having inherent risks,” they said, “but in the context of the social license to operate, there is a need to define a framework to limit risk, reduce injury and optimize the welfare of horses in competition.
“The results of this study demonstrate that the reasons for lameness can be multifactorial and therefore complex to completely suppress endurance.
“The results of this study demonstrate that after the elimination of one lameness there is a higher probability of another elimination of lameness, however, little is known about causation, diagnosis and rehabilitation before returning to competition after the elimination of lameness.
“In order to effectively manage endurance horses, it would be beneficial to have more details about lameness, such as which limb(s) and at what stage of competition the lameness and elimination occurs, to be able to determine prophylactic management strategies.”
Current information in the database does not indicate which limb or limbs were affected by the lameness. “Therefore, it is not possible to assess whether the horse(s) with repeated lameness elimination results are eliminated with the same limb each time, which would indicate a return to competition before full recovery. “
Identifying recurring injuries and/or compensatory patterns that may be detrimental to horse welfare would allow stakeholders to act accordingly, they said.
“Increasing mandatory rest periods between competition and educating riders on the importance of proper and maximum recovery could improve horse welfare and increase the longevity of the horse’s career.
“It may also be beneficial to limit the number of competitive starts during a competitive season to reduce the possible impact of cumulative distance strain injuries.”
In conclusion, they stated that the horse’s competition history, including the number of previous starts, previous eliminations and entered race category are important in establishing the probability of elimination, and more specifically the elimination of the lameness, in the British National Endurance.
The study team included Bloom, Stephen Draper and Jane Williams, from Hartpury University in Gloucester; Euan Bennet, with the University of Bristol; and David Marlin, with AnimalWeb Ltd in Cambridge.
Bloom, F, Draper, S, Bennet, E, Marlin, D, Williams, J. Risk factors for elimination of lameness in British endurance riding. Equine Veterinarian J. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1111/evj.13875
The study, published under a Creative Commons Licensecan be read here.