Energetic cost of locomotion on different equine treadmills

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Abstract

Reason for performing study:

Human athletes run faster and experience fewer injuries when running on surfaces with a stiffness ‘tuned’ to their bodies. We questioned if the same might be true for horses, and if so, would running on surfaces of different stiffness cause a measurable change in the amount of energy required to move at a given speed?

Hypothesis:

Different brands of commercial treadmills have pans of unequal stiffness, and this difference would result in different metabolic power requirements to locomote at a given speed.

Methods:

We tested for differences in stiffness between a Mustang 2200 and a Säto I commercial treadmill by incrementally loading each treadmill near the centre of the pan with fixed weights and measuring the displacement of the pan as weights were added or removed from the pan. We trained six 3-year-old Thoroughbreds to run on the 2 treadmills. After 4 months the horses ran with reproducible specific maximum rates of O2 consumption (V̇O2max/kg bwt, 2.62 ± 0.23 (s.d.) mlO2 STPD/sec/kg) at 14.2 ± 0.7 (s.d.) m/sec. They were alternately run on the 2 treadmills at identical grade (0.40 ± 0.02%) and speeds (1.83 (walk), 4.0 (trot) and 8.0 (canter) m/sec, all ± 0.03 m/sec) while wearing an open-flow mask for measurement of V̇O2.

Results:

The Mustang treadmill was over 6 times stiffer than the Säto. The V̇O2/kg bwt increased by approximately 4-fold over the range of speeds studied on both treadmills. Oxygen consumption was significantly lower at all speeds for the Mustang treadmill compared to the Säto. The fractional difference in energy cost decreased by a factor of 6 with increasing speed, although absolute difference in cost was relatively constant.

Conclusions:

We suggest it costs less energy for horses to walk, trot or canter on a stiffer treadmill than on a more compliant treadmill, at least within the ranges of stiffness evaluated.

Potential relevance:

It may be possible to define a substrate stiffness ‘tuned’ to a horse's body enabling maximal energetic economy when running. The differences between treadmills allows more accurate comparisons between physiological studies conducted on treadmills of different stiffness, and might help to identify an ideal track stiffness to reduce locomotor injuries in equine athletes.

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