Sensors Indicate Muscle Fatigue Level in Exercising HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 19, 2012
A good training program gradually increases a horse’s exercise in both time and difficulty so that the animal becomes stronger and more efficient in his cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal systems.
Trainers can monitor heart rate and respiration to gauge the improvement in a horse’s fitness level, aiming for a progression that asks for a higher level of performance without overtaxing the horse’s capabilities and risking injury. Riders also develop a feel for how hard their horses are working, but it’s difficult to know exactly how fatigued the horse may actually be, especially if he’s the willing sort that will try very hard to do what the rider is asking.
Researchers at Hartpury College in England have evaluated the use of surface electromyography, a technique that detects muscle activity and fatigue through sensors attached to the horse’s skin.
Using British National Hunt racehorses, the researchers clipped the coat and attached sensors to the skin over the right and left superficial gluteal muscles on each horse’s rump. As the horses galloped uphill, the sensors detected data about muscle energy use and fatigue levels.
Results showed that muscular effort varied between horses and also throughout each horse’s activity period. When trainers were asked for their impression of each horse’s fitness and these results were compared with sensor readings, there was little correlation, showing that a rider’s or trainer’s impression of fitness might not be accurate.
For the most part, the horses in the trial showed low levels of muscle fatigue. They also appeared to be working both sides of their bodies equally. Though only one set of muscles was being monitored, this technique could potentially be used to make a general evaluation of muscular effort and fatigue, thus giving trainers another tool to use in planning conditioning programs for equine athletes.