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What effect do poles have on my horse's walk?

Research Review


Title: The effect of ground and raised poles on the kinematics of the walk.

Date: 2022 in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science

Author: Walker et al.


Overview:


Flat and raised ground poles are commonly used and recommended by therapists as part of training and rehabilitation for specific conditions in horses. The current evidence of the use of pole work in horses is still lacking, which is a little scary, as there seem to be a wide range of pole work clinic available with very little knowledge on what effect this is having on the horse's body both short and long term.

We seem to have a subjective agreement that the use of pole work for horses is beneficial from a therapeutic perspective, the frequency, duration and intensity is lacking research and support. It is also well recognised that pole work is beneficial for a range of equine orthopaedic conditions once pain has been resolved.


Below are a list of studies that support the use of pole work:

  • Brown et al 2019- Raised poles increase the CSA of the multifidus muscle

  • Shaw et al 2021- Ground poles at the walk increase rectus abdominus activation

  • Clayton 2016- Rectus abdominus is activated over ground poles and raised poles at the trot

  • Wilson et al 2018 - inhand walking is the most frequently prescribed intervention

  • Clayton et al 2015 - Trotting over poles in straight line increases limb and joint flexion without increasing GRF


Once pain has been resolved, pole work can be used for optimising:

  • Balance

  • Addressing Proprioceptive deficits

  • Movement patterns

  • Treating stiffness and weakness

  • Muscle fatigue

  • Improving neuromuscular control



Why walking poles?


Walking poles are a valuable tool to achieving key rehabilitation goals without risking overload of the structures recovering from injury. Walk is a symmetrical gait with no suspension phase and a lower ground reaction force, making it more suitable for early rehab. Pole work in walk has been advocated to promote dynamic stability in the horse as there is a requirement to lift the limbs higher in the swing phase without changing the relative height of the trunk, which will potentially increase stability of the trunk and balance.


Methods of the study:

  • Clinically sound horses

  • Already experienced walking over poles

  • 36 markers on predetermined anatomical points around the body

  • 5 IMUs - The poll, wither, TS, left and right TC.

  • Makers were placed by the same researcher

  • Used weighted plastic poles 3m x 10cm

  • 3 adjacent lanes - no pole lane, lane 2; ground poles 5x placed at 75cm apart, lane 3; raised 5 poles placed at 26cm apart and 70cm high

  • Each horse had 10min acclimatisation and warm up

  • 4 trials, 2x on each rein, led from both sides

  • Measured the angles of the shoulder, scapular, elbow, carpus, MTP, hip, stifle, tarsus and MTP.

  • Measured at mid stance and mid swing


Results: From the forelimb : mid swing


  • Shoulder angle decreased from flat poles to raised poles

  • Elbow angle decreased from no poles to flat poles to raised poles

  • Carpus angle decreased from no poles to flat poles to raised poles

  • MCP angle decreased from no poles to flat poles to raised poles


Forelimb results


  • Swing duration increased over raised poles

  • mid stance occurs earlier over raised poles

  • Significant change from ground poles to raised poles


Hind limb results

Mid Swing

  • Hip decreased from no poles to ground poles to raise poles

  • Tarsus decreased from no poles to ground poles to raise poles

  • Stifle decreased from no poles to ground poles to raise poles

  • MTP decreased from no poles to ground poles to raise poles

  • THERE WAS NO ANGULATION DIFFERENCE

  • No significant difference in swing duration

  • Mid stance occurs earlier in the stride over raised poles

  • Significant increase in ROM of the hip, stifle, tarsus over raised poles

The largest % change was seen in the elbow and stifle, and least percentage in the shoulder and hip. Speed decreased from no poles to ground poles to raised poles. The stride duration increased from no poles to raised poles. Variables like age and workload had no significant relationship to any of the limb kinematics.



The IMU results which measured the craniocaudal, dorsoventral and mediolateral


Craniocaudal results:

  • no poles to ground poles- decreased ROM of the wither, TS and bilateral TC

  • no poles to raised poles - decreased ROM of the wither, TS and bilateral TC

  • ground poles to raised poles - decreased ROM of bilateral TC

  • no poles and ground poles to raised poles - increased ROM of the poll

Mediolateral results:


  • No poles to ground poles- increased ROM of the TS and bilateral TC

  • No poles and ground poles to raised poles - increased ROM of the poll, wither, TC and bilateral TC

Dorsoventral results


  • no significant difference from the no poles to ground poles

  • no poles to raised poles - decrease in ROM and right TC - this is an interesting finding and suggests that when we enhance the poles to a certain level are we enhancing the natural asymmetries of the horse?

  • Ground poles and raised poles - change in ROM of the wither



What does this mean?


This study showed that by adding poles to a surface and walking a horse over them, we are increasing the joint ROM through increased swing flexion compared to no poles. It also shows that there was a difference in craniocaudal ROM of the wither, TC and TS over poles compared to no poles and an increase in poll ROM over the raised poles compared to no poles. Mediolateral motion of the TC and TS increased over flat poles compared to no poles and this was accompanied by an increase in wither ROM over raised poles. Dorsoventral ROM was decreased at the right TC over raised poles compared to no poles.


This study guides us to choose specific pole work heights in relation to what we want the horse's body to do. Does there need to be further research done on WHY the Right TC was different to the left TC over raised poles?


Thank you for reading and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


info@animalchiropractoruk.com















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