Researchers who analyzed the performance of more than 4,000 endurance horses have shown it is possible to predict likely eliminations as races progress.
The French research team, writing in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, noted that nearly half of the horses participating in endurance events were eliminated at a vet gate.
“Detecting unfit horses before a health problem occurs and treatment is required is a challenge for veterinarians but is essential for improving equine welfare,” say Eric Barrey and his colleagues.
Barrey, joined in the study by Mohamed Younes, Céline Robert and François Cottin, proposed it would be possible to detect unfit horses earlier in a race by measuring key variables. Their hypothesis proved correct.
Using their model, it would be possible for riders or trainers to be told at a vet check that there was a 70% chance of their horse being eliminated at the next vet gate.
The researchers crunched the data on 4,070 different endurance horses that undertook a total of 7,032 starts in high-level national and international endurance events from 2007-11.
The research team analyzed key data related to heart rate, cardiac recovery time and average speed recorded at the previous vet gate, as well as factoring in the age of the horse and the race distance. They found that it was possible to predict the probability of elimination of a horse as it continued with the race.
Overall, 39% of the horses that started an event were eliminated, mostly due to lameness (64%) or metabolic disorders (15%).
The percentage of correctly predicted eliminations at each vet gate, from 2 to 5, ranged between 62% and 86%, depending upon the gate.
Lameness, dehydration and metabolic disorders were the main causes of elimination in 160km events, they noted. Elimination rates in endurance events varied from one geographical area to another.
For example, eliminations for metabolic disorders occurred more frequently in hot and humid countries. However, lameness remained the most common cause of elimination in all countries.
Younes M, Robert C, Cottin F, Barrey E. (2015) Speed and Cardiac Recovery Variables Predict the Probability of Elimination in Equine Endurance Events. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0137013. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137013