Published: 07 Jan 2022 | Last Updated: 07 Jan 2022 11:54:06

A lecturer and early career researcher at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has been awarded a grant to carry out research exploring the shape change in horse’s backs during walking and trotting. This research aims to identify where saddles should have increased fit to the dorsum of the back, and where stiff materials are most appropriate for matching the horse’s shape.

Dr Jorn Cheney
Dr Jorn Cheney

The grant has been awarded to Dr Jorn Cheney by the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, who are a Not-for-Profit City of London Livery Company, committed to Saddlery, Equestrianism and Education.

Saddles are designed around a standing horse’s measurements so poor saddle fit can constrain a horse’s movement or lead to its injury. Injuries are often attributed to the saddle improperly distributing the load of the rider and applying high-pressure concentrations along the body that results in tissue damage and pain. To achieve a uniform pressure distribution throughout a ride, saddles should instead be designed around a horse’s measurements while moving, and Dr Cheney plans to provide guidance on how a horse’s measurements change during movement.

The research project will be measuring the shape of a horse’s dorsum during walking and trotting to quantify the magnitude of shape change. Photogrammetry, which extracts 3D information from photographs, will be used to document dorsum shape over the stride cycle using high-resolution cameras. It will identify regions of the dorsum that largely maintain their shape, and those that do not. Dr Cheney expects walks to exhibit greater trunk twist and trots to exhibit greater changes in trunk extension/curvature.

Much of Dr Cheney’s work focuses on the mechanics of structures and has involved work examining wing-shape change as a function of air pressure, which has many similarities to horse dorsum-shape change as a function of saddle pressure. This important project will pave the way to open future studies in horse-saddle interactions.

This innovative project will take place within the RVC’s Structure and Motion Laboratory, which is part of the Comparative Physiology and Medicine Research Programme at the RVC. With state-of-the-art facilities and multidisciplinary expertise, the laboratory has an international reputation for excellence. Research that investigates how animals move and how they interact with their physical environment as well has how movement is controlled and the limits to performance is undertaken to gain a more complete understanding of how and why animals move as they do.

 Jorn Cheney, Lecturer and early career researcher at the RVC, said:

I would like to thank the Worshipful Company of Saddlers for their support. I am very excited to be able to expand my research programme into exploring the interactions between horse saddles and the tissue that underlies them. I expect that the results of this research will aid us in understanding how horses change shape through their gait and how, with knowledge of that shape change, we may be able to design better saddles.”

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