Sunday, September 01, 2019

Research: Anti-inflammatory treatment did not decrease movement asymmetry identified in riding horses in training

Sometimes, it seems like research raises more questions than it answers, and a new study from Sweden this summer asked some very interesting questions. Research into asymmetry in horses, as identified by sensor-based gait analysis, brings into the discussion the rider's perception that a horse is sound...even if its movement suggests otherwise. 

Might movement asymmetries in riding horses actually be non-painful expressions of biological variation instead of indications of treatable lameness? A collaborative research study conducted by Swedish and British researchers concluded that the question can be difficult to answer when it came to a group of riding horses they studied.

The equine subjects studied were perceived as free from lameness by their owners, but still showed movement asymmetry when evaluated by a quantitative gait analysis system.

In this new project, conducted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in collaboration with The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the United Kingdom, the movement pattern of such asymmetric riding horses was not affected by anti-inflammatory treatment.

However, at the same time, the researchers stressed that it was not possible to rule out that some of the horses were in pain.

Data from previous quantitative gait analysis studies has documented that a large proportion of riding horses in training may be perceived as free from lameness by their owners but show movement asymmetries that are equal in magnitude to horses with mild clinical lameness. Whether these movement asymmetries are related to orthopedic pain and/or pathology has yet to be studied further. In the current study, researchers investigated whether these movement asymmetries in riding horses in training are affected by anti-inflammatory treatment with the medication meloxicam.

Motion analysis was performed on horses that were 1) in full training; 2) considered free from lameness by their owners; and 3) not recently treated for lameness. Sixty-six horses with movement asymmetries measured to be above thresholds regularly used during lameness exams were included.

These 66 horses were treated with a commonly prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (meloxicam) and placebo on two separate occasions. Before and after each treatment, each horse’s movement asymmetry was measured using the sensor-based “Lameness Locator” system.

“Treatment with meloxicam did not significantly affect the movement asymmetry in these horses,” the authors wrote in a summary provided by SLU. “The movement asymmetries might be non-painful expressions of biological variation. However, they can also be related to pain/dysfunction that is non-responsive to meloxicam treatment.

“We know very little about chronic pain in horses and for which orthopedic conditions anti-inflammatory treatment is effective. Further knowledge in these areas will improve lameness diagnostics and treatment in sport horses.”

Among the owners of the horses used in the study were the Swedish Horse Guards Society, the National Equestrian Center at Strömsholm, Färingsö Riding School and Uppsala Yrkesgymnasium Jälla.

The study was funded by The Swedish-Norwegian Foundation for Equine Research and The Swedish research council Formas.

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Citation: Persson-Sjodin E, Hernlund E, Pfau T, Haubro Andersen P, Holm Forsström K, Rhodin M. 2019. Effect of meloxicam treatment on movement asymmetry in riding horses in training. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0221117

Click this link to open and download or print the full Open Access article.

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