Like humans, all horses are “sided,” meaning they have a dominant side and a weaker side. This asymmetry could be natural or related to an old injury. Like humans, horses must be encouraged to work on their weaker side.
To strengthen the weaker limb and build muscle force, a horse owner can place a bell boot on the weaker leg during ridden exercise to encourage engagement, says Dr. Adrian P. Harrison of the Copenhagen University in Denmark to The Horse. Muscle force is where muscle converts metabolic energy into active force on the connective tissue and bones.
By placing the bell boot on the leg that isn't bearing as much weight, the horse is “reminded” of his limb and that using it does not cause pain. The scientists expanded on research that had been done a decade ago, focused on using a lightweight chain to make horses more cognizant of their limbs. In this study, the team used acoustic myography (AMG) to ensure that muscle activity was increasing. AMG measures how many muscle fibers and muscle power the central nervous system uses when at contracts a muscle.
Eight dressage horses ridden by amateurs were used in the study. Though the horses were sound, they had weaker left hind limbs when compared to the right hind limbs as measured by AMG. Each horse had a cob-sized bell boot placed on the weaker hind limb when the horse was ridden; horses were worked for 60 minutes, three days a week for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, the AMG measurements on both legs were the same and the asymmetry was gone
It is not known if asymmetry may cause more-serious lameness issues. Harrison recommends riders vary their horse's workouts, both in and out of the ring and in direction. Tack fit is also important.
Read more at The Horse.
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