Hartpury University staff and students hosted British Equestrian for an insightful ‘Equine Performance and Fitness’ day earlier this month (6 November). The event welcomed athletes from British Equestrian’s World Class Programme (WCP), plus invited athletes from the Youth pathways of British Dressage, British Eventing and British Showjumping.
Dr Kathryn Nankervis, Associate Professor at Hartpury University joined Rachel Murray (Podium Potential Pathway Vet), Tim Randle (influential WCP figure and supporter of the British showjumping teams) and Liz Brown (Eventing Team Vet) as speakers, presenting on a variety of insightful topics.
Staff and students from Hartpury University’s BSc (Hons) Equine Science and BSc (hons) Equine Performance and Rehabilitation degrees, as well as staff from the Hartpury Equine Therapy Centre were on hand to help with the running of the day.
It was Kathryn who kick-started the day by providing an overview of the physiology of equine fitness. Her talk focused on the importance of tailored training and good turnout at all stages of a horse’s career, both to enhance performance in competition and protect the horse from injury, therefore, extending its career and ensuring good wellbeing throughout its life. She explained that training horses is a combination of ‘art and science,’ with each horse needing their own individual training programme determined by many different factors.
This led onto discipline-specific theory and practical sessions on training strategies and anatomy of the performance horse, with a focus on how correct muscle development and core strength enables horses to perform highly skilled movements.
The afternoon’s practical sessions put the theory into context. Kathryn and Rachel used Hartpury’s new Aqua Treadmill to demonstrate how it can be used to alter the movement of a horse’s walk. This was followed by a series of polework exercises, both from the ground and ridden, which can have similar benefits of the water treadmill.
Concluding the practical sessions, Tim and Liz explained how fitness monitoring and technology can be used to assess the horse during a training session, such as with the Alogo Move Pro app. The app developed by researchers monitors components of the horse’s movements throughout the session, including precise gait metrics and analysis of strides. This sparked intriguing debate amongst the cohort of riders over the use of technology within the future of equestrian sport.
After an engaging and thought-provoking day, the cohort left feeling inspired to take their fresh knowledge and ideas home with them to put into their own practices.
Eventer Kristina Hall-Jackson, who is on the Podium Potential Pathway of the World Class Programme, explained why a day like this can be so useful for her and other athletes: “It’s been a really educational day. We spend so much time on the horse that we don’t actually sit and do the academic side, but it’s really good to be able to do this so we can put it into our training – it’s all those small gains to help the overall performance.”
David Hamer, British Equestrian’s Head of Performance Pathways, commented: “The unique element of equestrian sport is the requirement for the human athlete to best prepare their equine partner for the competition arena. The fitness of the equine athlete is crucial in ensuring a long and successful sporting career and this is the responsibility of the rider. Today provided an opportunity to bring science and practice together to help riders gain information and an understanding of equine fitness of how to do this from world-leading experts”.
The day was funded by Sport England and UK Sport and further equine sport science and medicine sessions are planned for the future.
Research at Hartpury
Research at Hartpury is an important part of its academic and commercial activities, with the intention of driving positive change in animal and equine wellbeing, agriculture, sports performance and health.
Dr Kathryn Nankervis has a long history of working with organisations in the equine industry, and her highly acclaimed research around the use of water treadmills informed British Equestrian guidance on their use.
Research carried out by Hartpury University, submitted as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 process, has even been recognised as ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’, placing Hartpury amongst a prestigious group of well-established institutions.
Photo Credit: British Equestrian