Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program

The Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program hits major milestone

The $5.25m Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program, jointly funded by the University of Melbourne, Racing Victoria (RV) and the State Government of Victoria, has gathered important data in a series of biomechanical tests on galloping horses at Pakenham Racecourse.

The recent testing is a major milestone in the project to develop best-practice strategies in the prevention and early detection of bone injury to thoroughbred racehorses.

The research program is led by Professor Chris Whitton, head of the University of Melbourne’s Equine Centre in Werribee.

A number of retired racehorses were put through their paces over the past few weeks for the testing, with each major joint “marked up” and captured at full gallop by high-speed cameras which measure kinematic (or movement) data.

Professor Whitton explained the data will enable the research team to measure the load on each hoof strike as it connects with the racing surface and how that is transferred to the limb.

“The key for what we were trying to achieve at Pakenham was to measure the loads within the limbs, particularly in the joints and on the tendons, which are the structures most commonly injured,” said Prof. Whitton.

“We are trying to understand what the loads are, and what things affect the loads, such as the surface and the speeds the horses are going, and eventually changes to foot balance and shoeing.

"It’s all about trying to minimise the loads so that we can avoid injury.

“The ultimate goal is to try to reduce the load in horses’ legs by providing the safest surfaces and the safest foot balance, and to understand how fast horses go and for how long so we can minimise injury,” said Prof. Whitton.

The testing was a culmination of a year of planning and involved a team of 15 researchers from the University.

The biomechanical testing, which took place on both synthetic and sand tracks where the most consistent surfaces could be achieved, follows extensive work already conducted on the treadmill in the lab at the University’s Equine Centre.

Dr Grace Forbes, GM Veterinary Services, said RV was committed to presenting the research findings as a tool for trainers and anyone involved in equine disciplines.

“As the research progresses we are committed to share what we are our learning with our trainers,” said Dr Forbes.

“Our hope is that through evidence-based research, we can calculate safe levels of training for horses while maintaining fitness to reduce the incidence of injury.”

Limb injuries are the most common cause of horse fatalities and are a common factor in other injuries and premature retirement.

Professor Whitton’s research has already identified how bone microdamage accumulates and is repaired during the training cycle.


Fast facts: the team behind the biomechanical testing:

15 researchers from the University of Melbourne

30 high speed infra-red motion capture cameras

1 purpose built track tester from the University of California Davis

3 retired racehorses – Rocky and Bentley, accompanied by travel companion Megapixel

1 jockey – Paddy Bell

1 veterinary farrier – Dr Luke Wells-Smith

The finishing straight – Pakenham synthetic and Pakenham sand tracks

As part of sharing information with trainers, RV will be hosting a trainers and fore persons information seminar at Moonee Valley Racecourse on Monday 19th November. 

This event will allow trainers to hear from eight leading international experts talking on a range of exercise physiology subjects.

Professor Chris Whitton is among the speakers, and will talk in more detail about what trainers can take from the early research indicators. More information on the seminar can be found on the RV website.