Reasons for performing study: There is a lack of scientific data and studies on the effect of conformation on performance or on orthopaedic health.
Objectives: To investigate the relationship between conformation, injury and performance in racehorses used for racing over fences.
Methods: Over 2 years, 108 National Hunt racehorses were followed and their medical and performance data recorded. Conformation was measured in 3D with a computerised motion analysis system. Linear multiple regression models were used to evaluate the effect of conformation on measures of race performance and stepwise forward logistic regression models to assess the effect on risk of injury.
Results: An increase in intermandibular width, flexor angle of the shoulder joint and coxal angle (the angle between the ilium and ischium) was demonstrated to have a positive effect on performance. Performance decreased with increasing girth, length of the hind digit and valgus conformation of the metacarpophalangeal joint. The risk of suffering from superficial digital flexor tendon injury increased with increasing metacarpophalangeal joint angle and with carpus valgus conformation. The risk of pelvic fracture increased with valgus conformation of the tarsus and decreased with an increasing coxal angle.
Conclusion: Valgus deformation was demonstrated to be detrimental to performance or increased risk of injury, perhaps resulting in higher loads on musculoskeletal structures. The coxal angle was the only parameter to have an effect on both risk of injury and performance. An alignment of the muscles with the axis of the pelvis may be beneficial for force transmission and decrease the bending moment of the muscles on the bones. The statistical power of this study is limited, however it provides preliminary data necessary for the planning of a larger scale study on the effect of conformation on performance and risk of injury.
Clinical relevance: Studies of the effects of conformation on performance and risk of injury may aid in identifying individuals likely to perform well on the racecourse and avoid risks of injury.