Effect of uphill exercise on equine superficial digital flexor tendon forces at trot and canter

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Reasons for performing study:

One cause of overstrain injury to the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) in horses is the force loaded on the SDFT during repeated running. Therefore, decreasing this force may reduce SDFT injury. It has been reported that strain on the SDFT decreases with a toe-wedge shoe. Uphill courses are used for training of racehorses, and the angle of hoof-sole to the horizon during uphill running is similar to that of the toe-wedge shoe.


To determine the effects of uphill exercise on the force on the SDFT during trotting and cantering.


Arthroscopically implantable force probes (AIFP) were implanted into the SDFT of the left or right forelimb of 7 Thoroughbred horses and AIFP output recorded during trotting and cantering on a treadmill inclined at slopes of 0,3 or 8%, and then 0% again. Superficial digital flexor tendon force was calculated as a relative value, with the amplitude of AIFP output voltage at initial 0% slope equal to 100.


Out of 14 sets of experiments, AIFP data were analysed successfully in 9 at the trot, in 3 at the canter in the trailing forelimb on a slope of 3 and 8%, and in 2 at the canter in the leading forelimb on a slope of 3%. Increasing the incline from 0-8% tended to decrease peak force in the SDFT at the trot, and in the trailing forelimb at the canter. However, force in the SDFT was unchanged in the leading forelimb at the canter on the 3% incline.


The force in the SDFT trotting or cantering uphill is unchanged or lower than that loaded at the same speed on a flat surface. Because at similar speeds the workload for uphill exercise is greater than on the flat, uphill running increases exercise intensity without increasing force in the SDFT.

Potential relevance:

Uphill exercise may reduce the risk of SDFT injury as both running speed and SDFT force are decreased on an incline as compared to the flat, even when exercise intensity is the same. Further study is needed to confirm these findings at canter in a larger population of horses.

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