Dr Sue Dyson and Claire Martin carry out equine research project

December 2019

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Writtle University College (WUC) was delighted to welcome renowned equine expert and veterinary surgeon Dr Sue Dyson, to its Equine campus on the week commencing November 18.

Dr Dyson worked with WUC veterinary physiotherapy graduate Claire Martin on a research project sponsored by World Horse Welfare. Dr Dyson said: "We wanted to investigate whether or not one horse ridden by two riders of potentially different abilities would show differences in the quality of their gaits and their behaviours."

38 horses were ridden over the course of three days, making full use of Writtle's extensive facilities including arenas, horses and teaching barns. Writtle University College students worked alongside a nominated experienced rider, as chosen by Dr. Dyson, to assist with the project. Equine resource manager Dan Cook said: "Our state-of-the-art equine facilities at Writtle's Equine campus benefitted from over £2 million in investment within the last few years. We're delighted to give our alumna, Claire, and Dr Dyson, access to our arenas, horses and students for their research project. By participating, our students have gained valuable experience."

Each horse was ridden twice. 50 percent were ridden first by the nominated professional rider and 50 percent by the horses' regular riders, who were predominantly Writtle College Equine Students, to create a randomised study design. Each horse and rider took part in a purpose-designed test that lasted around 8.5 minutes.

Dr Dyson said: "The tests were filmed from the same perspective so that retrospectively we could apply what we call a ridden horse ethogram; 24 behaviours which all have strict definitions. We're observing the number each horse displays during the test both for the professional rider and the non-professional rider. We're also looking at gait characteristics. The rider skill will be assessed by an independent expert from the video recordings. Someone else will also independently assess the quality of the horses' work, during the ridden exercise with both the professional rider and the non-professional rider."

Before the horses were ridden their saddles were assessed by a professional saddle fitter. Physiotherapist and WUC lecturer Rhian Williams, checked each horse for back muscle tension or discomfort. One horse appeared uncomfortable so was not used within the project.

The practical element of the project is now complete. Results and video footage will be analysed over the coming weeks, to discover whether riders' level of experience impacts on horses' gaits and behaviours.