New study using Sleip: Dressage legend Ulla Håkanson funds research on the orthopaedic sustainability of horses

Isabelle Fredricson, veterinarian and researcher at the Swedish national equestrian centre Flyinge, has been awarded 1,8 MSEK in research funding from the Ulla Håkanson Foundation. The PhD study will be supervised by Elin Hernlund, DVM, Associate professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and co-founder of Sleip. 

In addition to the grant from Ulla Håkanson, SLU and Flyinge will provide funding. The research question is: “Smart choices for sustainable horses - can strategic movement monitoring, training regimens, and planned rest optimize the orthopaedic sustainability of riding horses?”  

Isabelle Fredricson manages the health of approximately 100 horses at Flyinge and has been a pioneering user of Sleip to monitor the horses under her care. In addition to being a DVM, Isabelle is an IVCA-certified chiropractor and has a background as a high-level show jumper. She is passionate about prevention and has long worked with riders, trainers, and farriers to address health issues proactively. 

“This collaborative study, involving experienced top riders, national equestrian facilities, veterinarians, farriers and leading researchers in biomechanics, aims to increase the understanding of early detection and prevention of orthopaedic disease. We want to establish fundamental knowledge of how management and training practices can positively impact horse health", says Isabelle Fredricson.

– We currently lack scientific studies connecting training regimens to movement asymmetries. A deeper understanding in this area could contribute to increased horse welfare – performance and sustainability –through smarter choices in training regimens, comments Elin Hernlund. 

The Sleip app will be used to collect data for the study, monitoring movement patterns and responses to changes in training regimens or management. The majority of the research will be conducted at Flyinge, which counts some 100 horses. Horses from the national facility at Strömsholm may also be included. 

Early detection and prevention through training

Orthopaedic injuries represent a significant health issue for horses. Medical treatments are often ineffective, as reflected by the high number of horses euthanized due to lameness (Egenvall et al., 2006). Early detection of lameness is likely crucial in reducing this number, providing an opportunity to implement measures to prevent severe injuries. 

As research indicates that training regimens affect orthopaedic injury rates in both racehorses (Hitchens et al., 2019) and show jumpers (Egenvall et al., 2013), changes in training regimens are likely an important intervention when horses begin to show early signs of movement irregularities. 

Opinions on what level or type of movement asymmetry constitutes a lameness in horses differ among veterinarians. Many riding horses display movement patterns similar to those of horses shown clinically to suffer from lameness, yet their owners do not notice any problems. It is unclear whether these asymmetries are a normal variation in movement or an undetected lameness (van Weeren et al., 2017; Bathe et al., 2018; Rhodin et al., 2017).

– By mapping and monitoring the movement patterns of horses over an extended period, we hope to characterize the asymmetries that worsen with increased workload and those that are unaffected, says Isabelle Fredricson. 

Against this background, this research project will focus on how the type, intensity, and variation of training affect the symmetry of horse movement. Other management factors, such as shoeing, will also be studied in relation to movement asymmetry.

The study will run from 2023-2027. 

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The research grant was presented to Isabelle Fredricson and Elin Hernlund by dressage legend Ulla Håkanson at a ceremony on the closing day of the 2023 Falsterbo Horse Show in southern Sweden.

 

About the Ulla Håkanson Foundation

Ulla Håkanson is a renowned dressage rider who has participated in six Olympic Games and continues to compete at a high level. In 2005, she established a foundation with the aim of strengthening equestrianism and contributing to horse welfare. The Ulla Håkanson Foundation annually awards the Ajax Scholarship to promising young riders in dressage and show jumping. Additionally, the foundation supports scientific research furthering "communication between humans and horses" and the well-being of horses and riders.  

 

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