"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 Hoofcare.com
© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing
Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site, www.hoofcare.com, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.