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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • treadmill;
  • exercise;
  • musculoskeletal injury

Summary

Reasons for performing study: During the past 20 years, treadmill exercise testing has played an important role in both the study of equine exercise physiology and the investigation of poor athletic performance. However, it has been suggested that some trainers and veterinarians may be reluctant to refer horses for treadmill exercise testing because of fears that horses may be at increased risk of musculoskeletal injury during treadmill exercise.

Objective: To investigate the incidence and types of injuries sustained by horses undergoing treadmill exercise.

Methods: Data were collated from 9 centres in the UK, France and Belgium, and the prevalence and types of injury were established.

Results: A total of 2305 records were reviewed, with 2258 horses performing treadmill exercise. There was an overall injury rate of 5.4%. However, the majority of injuries sustained were minor in nature (4.7%). Only 13 horses (0.6%) sustained major injuries in association with treadmill exercise. These included 5 cases of severe exercise-induced myopathy, 4 fractures (of which 1 was catastrophic), 2 tendon injuries, 1 case with undiagnosed severe lameness and 1 with marked exacerbation of a previously diagnosed lameness. Two other major incidents were reported but were not directly associated with treadmill exercise (one had iliac thrombosis and one collapsed and died as a result of a pulmonary embolism).

Conclusions: This study confirms that the majority of horses undergo treadmill exercise without incident. The majority of injuries that did occur were minor in nature and the incidence of major injuries was similar to that reported during competition elsewhere.

Potential relevance: Treadmill exercise is a safe procedure and does not appear to pose an increased risk of injury in comparison with overground exercise.