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Equitation science: do vets have a role?

by
01 April 2009, at 12:00am

Pieter Brama, Professor of Veterinary Surgery at UCD, previews a new stream at this year's BEVA congress.

The BEVA congress is breaking new ground this year with the introduction of an “equitation science” stream. A full day will focus on this and include a stimulating mix of international multidisciplinary experts from this “new” field.

 It is clear that the role of the horse has changed since domestication. Both the demands of increasing performance and the increased awareness of equine welfare have developed into the concept of the “happy equine athlete”.

 Currently, there are as many opinions on the concept of the “happy equine athlete” as there are concerned riders. Vets, nevertheless, are still sceptical about the value of equitation science, questioning both its scientific basis and the level of “horse whispering” involved.

 It is, however, well accepted that many horses fail to achieve their full athletic potential as a result of inappropriate conditioning, training or management methods leading to injury or behavioural problems.

 Thus, it is essential that riders, trainers, behavioural scientists, engineers and veterinarians pool their resources and provide the scientific background needed for a correct and meaningful implementation of the “happy equine athlete” concept.

 Equitation science is cementing its research-based foundations and importance and a failure by vets to connect with this discipline is a missed opportunity.

Leading the way...

 It is the vet who commits to using his or her scientific knowledge for the protection of animal health and relief of animal suffering and it could, therefore, be argued that vets should be leading the way in the application of scientific equitation knowledge to the interaction between equine professionals and the horse.

 Knowledge of equitation science informs a veterinary perspective and will help vets play an effective role in preventing injuries and behavioural problems in horses (and their trainers), thereby enhancing longevity, enjoyment and safety for both rider and horse, both core customers of veterinary services.

 This is what the equitation science day at BEVA 2009 is all about. A full day programme is provided on Saturday focused on performance in relation to the back, muscles and management of horses.

 René van Weeren (The Netherlands) starts the morning session with the current scientific view on the biomechanical concept of the equine back. Kevin Haussler (USA) then focuses on sacroiliac joint loading and pelvic deformation. Jean Marie Denoix (France) highlights imaging of the equine back.

Chiropractice treatment

 After this introduction of the back from different perspectives by experts in their fields, Kevin Haussler returns and addresses chiropractic treatment in relation to performance and back function, showing that it is possible to take “alternative therapies” seriously, while still maintaining strict scientific standards.

 The next session focuses on muscles and performance. José Luís L.Rivero (Spain) presents strength training in horses and neuromuscular causes of poor performance and Richard Piercy (UK) discusses “Tying up: pathophysiology and management – what’s new?” The multidisciplinary approach within equitation science materialises in the presentation by Solange Schrijer (The Netherlands) on “The physiotherapist’s approach to muscular dysfunction”.

 After lunch, a multidisciplinary session focuses on managing the top performance horse. Physiotherapeutic management is discussed by Solange Schrijer, followed by a duo presentation by Sjef Janssen (trainer and partner of triple gold Olympic dressage winner Anky van Grunsven) and Rene van Weeren: “Training for Gold: where practice and science meet”.

 Then Paul McGreevy (Australia), the advocate of equitation science, presents “Behavioural influences on training and competitive success” from the horse’s perspective. Finally, Becky Hothersall (UK) focuses on cognitive skills of horses, addressing the question of whether they exist and, if so, what their relevance is for horse management.

 The day closes with a look at equitation science from an holistic viewpoint with Paul McGreevy putting behaviour at the centre with his presentation on “Behavioural influences on training and competitive success: the horse-rider interface”.

 All the speakers will then join the final panel discussion and it is anticipated that clinical examples/cases presented by the panel will encourage audience participation.

 The programme guarantees a stimulating day full of learning new “stuff ” – and fun.

 Equitation science forms one of three streams on Saturday and we hope to have only one complaint again from our BEVA 2009 conference attendees, that it’s “too hard to choose between the different streams”! 

We are confident this will again be the case and will take it as a compliment for the programme that aims at high- quality talks on cuttingedge topics.

 Looking forward to seeing you at BEVA 2009 in Birmingham from 9th to 12th September.