Handwalking with the Equiband® Pro System for 4 weeks improves hindlimb symmetry, spinal stability and back pain symmetry in horses with mild lameness.

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia have shown that a 4-week training program with the Equiband® Pro improves hindlimb symmetry, spinal stability, and back pain symmetry in horses with mild hindlimb lameness.

The study included 8 horses (a mix of warmbloods and American Quarter Horses) ages 10-18 years old. Horses with moderate-severe lameness or moderate-severe back pain were not included in the study. The horses remained in their regular training program of light work (walk, trot, canter) for 30 minutes 2-3 days per week. It is important to note that the horses did not receive diagnosis or targeted treatment for the primary source of lameness. The only modification to their lifestyle was the following exercise protocol:

Horses were handwalked with the Equiband® Pro abdominal and hindquarter bands, fitted at approximately 30% tension (band length adjusted to approximately 70% of the distance between the attachment buckles on the saddle pad). Handwalking occurred on firm, level footing for increasing amounts of time over 4 weeks as follows:

  • Week one: 10 minutes 5 days/week
  • Week two: 15 minutes 5 days/week
  • Week three: 20 minutes 5 days/week
  • Week four: 25 minutes 5 days/week

Data were collected prior to the study, after two weeks, and after 4 weeks. All evaluations occurred without the Equiband® Pro System in place.

Force plate (kinetic) evaluation: Horses were walked and trotted over 2 in-ground force platforms. A symmetry ratio was calculated to evaluate asymmetries between forces and duration between left and right (including peak vertical force, stance duration, vertical impulse, peak/duration of breaking force, peak/duration of propulsive force). Stance duration symmetry was significantly improved at the trot following the 4 week training program (table 1). In other words, the amount of time that the hooves were on the ground became more even between left and right limbs, indicating decreased lameness/asymmetry.

Subjective and objective lameness evaluation: Gait was analyzed by 2 veterinarians using the AAEP lameness grading scale, as well as an inertial sensor system. At the beginning of the study, 5 horses had mild (grade 1-2) lameness in one hindlimb, and 3 horses had mild lameness in both hindlimbs. By 4 weeks, though the subjective lameness scores improved in all horses, there were no statistical differences in lameness scores (supplemental table 1).

Postural Sway evaluation: Craniocaudal (back-to-front) and mediolateral (side-to-side) movement was evaluated at standing, walk, and trot using a portable media device. After the 4-week Equiband® Pro training program, craniocaudal (back-to-front) and mediolateral (side-to-side) postural sway decreased at standing, and rotation around the vertical axis (yaw) decreased at trot. These results suggest improved stability of the spine, possibly due to increased strength of spinal stabilizer muscles. Interestingly, mediolateral (side-to-side) range of motion increased during the trot after the 4-week program. The authors hypothesize that this was due to either decreased back pain or increased flexion through the topline. Results at the walk were similar to those at the trot (table 2).

Back pain evaluation: A pressure algometer was used to assess back pain on the left and right sides of the spine (2 cm from midline) at 5 locations along the topline (T13, T18, L3, L6, and S2). At baseline, horses tended to have significantly increased pain (lower pain thresholds) on the side of the spine that corresponded to the lame hindlimb. After the 4-week training program, this asymmetry was reduced and back pain thresholds became more symmetric between right and left sides of the spine (table 3).

The Equiband® Pro System is predicted to be useful at improving core strength and reducing compensatory movement patterns during rehabilitation. The authors of this study conclude that the Equiband® Pro may be a useful tool to use during rehabilitation of lameness, where the horse is limited to handwalking while the injury heals. However, the Equiband® Pro System alone will not improve lameness, and should be used in adjunct with appropriate therapeutics targeted at the primary injury.   

Citation: Ellis, et al. 2023. The effect of a 4-week elastic resistance training regimen in horses with non-performance limiting hindlimb lameness. Journal of Equine Rehabilitation.