Reasons for performing study: The load acting on the limbs and the load distribution between fore- and hindlimbs while performing specific dressage exercises lack objective assessment.
Hypothesis: The greater a horse's level of collection, the more load is shifted to the rear and that during the passage the vertical load on the limbs increases in relation to the accentuated vertical movement of the centre of mass.
Methods: Back and limb kinematics, vertical ground reaction force and time parameters of each limb were measured in 6 Grand Prix dressage horses performing on an instrumented treadmill at the trot and the passage. Horses were ridden by their own professional rider.
Results: At the passage, horses moved at a slower speed (−43.2%), with a lower stride frequency (−23.6%) and, therefore, higher stride impulses (+31.0%). Relative stance duration of fore- and hindlimbs and suspension duration remained unchanged. While at the trot the diagonal limbs impacted almost simultaneously, the hindlimbs always impacted first at the passage; the time dissociation between landing and lift-off remained unchanged. Because of the prolonged stride duration, stride impulse and consequently limb impulses were higher at the passage in the fore- as well as in the hindlimbs (+24.8% and +39.9%, respectively). Within the diagonal limb pair, load was shifted from the forehand to the hindquarters (percentage stride impulse carried by the forehand −4.8%). Despite the higher impulses, peak vertical forces in the fore- and hindlimbs remained unchanged because of the prolonged absolute stance durations in fore- and hindlimbs (+28.1% and +32.2%, respectively).
Conclusions: Based on the intralimb timing, the passage closely resembles the trot. Compared to other head-neck positions, the higher degree of collection resulted in a pronounced shift in impulse towards the hindquarters. Despite the higher limb impulses, peak forces acting on the limbs were similar to those observed at the trot.
Potential clinical relevance: An understanding of load distribution between fore- and hindlimbs in relation to different riding techniques is crucial to prevent wear-and-tear on the locomotor apparatus.