Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lameness Detection: Symmetrical Accelerometer Alignment Means Your Horse Is Sound

A sensor developed by scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark may soon be able to help detect the earliest and most subtle signs of equine lameness; use of the device is hoped to enable veterinarians and trainers to intervene and remove a horse from training or competition before an injury can become worse, and to treat an injury while it is still in its early stages.

"An objective measure is needed because it's not always obvious visually, and even trained observers of horses can disagree when a horse is going lame," explains Maj Halling Thomsen of the Faculty of Life Sciences in Copenhagen, who has been involved with the research.

Thomsen and her colleagues use miniature accelerometers calculated in three dimensions. The accelerometers were originally developed for use in cellphones, where they are used to orient information displayed on the screen.

Thomsen's accelerometer devices are, according to New Scientist magazine, three piezoelectric cantilevers set at right angles to each other. Each one produces a voltage when it is compressed by forces due to acceleration or gravity, so the three together can detect forces in three dimensions.

"Just like humans, the gait of a horse changes when it starts to hurt. Unlike humans though, a horse's four legs make it hard to detect with the human eye. But when horses are about to go lame they start to move asymmetrically left-right as they trot. An accelerometer, mounted on the animal's back should be able to detect this," Maj Halling Thomsen explained in an article in the University Post.

She and her team have studied healthy horses, and now plan to conduct further tests on lame horses to see if deviations from the "symmetry indices" they have drawn up can help predict the onset of lameness. With the device attached to a surcingle on the horse's back, they will be expecting a change in vertical motion of the horse's body as it moves from left to right.

Sensoring technology is in demand from race and show jump trainers in Europe, with some studies for example trying to optimise the link between stride length and speed. In the United States, accelerometer-based gait technology has been centered at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

"But there where I see the most value for this sensor is as a support for practicing vets in diagnosing lameness," says Thomsen.

For more information, see "Symmetry indices based on accelerometric data in trotting horses" in
Journal of Biomechanics, by Maj Halling Thomsen, Anders Tolver Jensen, Helle Sørensen, Casper Lindegaard, and Pia Haubro Andersen

18 June 2010 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog at
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