Feb. 11 - A new gait analysis system devised by European researchers could help prevent lameness in horses and save them from being put down. The research has raised interest in the racing industry, where horses are particularly vulnerable to injury. Jim Drury reports.
Dr. Thilo Pfau's gait sensor research on horses and ponies is aimed at preventing injury and could ultimately, save their lives. For veterinarians and racehorse owners, it's intriguing research. Pfau uses the sensors, containing gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers, to analyse the equines' movement. His team at the Royal Veterinary College are trying to detect signs of injury and lameness at their earliest stages, so the animals can be treated before reaching a point where they have to be put down. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. THILO PFAU, LECTURER IN BIO-ENGINEERING AT ROYAL VETERINARY COLLEGE, SAYING: "The sensors accurately and precisely in this case measure the up and down movement of the anatomical landmarks of the horse that they are attached to. In this case we are looking at a horse that is equipped for a lameness exam, so we're looking at sensors on the head and we're looking at three sensors mounted over the hind quarters of the horse where we then relate these movements to what the front limbs and what the hind limbs are doing." Until now vets have only been able to use a gait laboratory to see how horses move in a straight line, often on a motorised treadmill. Pfau thinks hooking them up with sensors while they run outdoors offers more realistic analysis. UPSOT: HOOFS He says his system will allow horse trainers to monitor their animals regularly. If a small deviation in gait pattern is detected, the trainer could seek treatment for the horse before an injury worsens. UPSOT: HOOFS SOUNDBITE (English) DR. THILO PFAU, LECTURER IN BIO-ENGINEERING AT ROYAL VETERINARY COLLEGE, SAYING: "How early can we spot these injuries, those impending injuries, those slowly developing injuries, and yes that is our ultimate goal is to prevent injuries rather than to look at rehabilitation and to look at how we can fix things once something is broken, we want to prevent injuries, we want to detect them as early as possible to make sure that those injuries don't happen." Pfau's research has attracted significant interest in the racing community. UPSOT: RACE SPECTATORS Horse racing can be a dangerous sport, with leg injuries sometimes inevitably leading to the destruction of the horse. Pfau thinks sensor analysis could, in many cases, prevent the injury from occurring in the first place, allowing the horse to race another day.