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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Pilot study of locomotor asymmetry in horses walking in circles with and without a rider

Egenvall, Agneta; Clayton, Hilary M.; Bystrom, Anna


Background: Horses commonly show asymmetries that manifest as left (L)-right (R) differences in vertical excursion of axial body segments. Moving on a circle confounds inherent individual asymmetries. Our goals were to evaluate individual and group asymmetry patterns and compare objective data with subjective impressions of side preference/laterality in horses walking on L and R circles. Methods: Fifteen horses walked on L and R circles unridden and ridden on long and short reins. Optical motion capture (150 Hz) tracked skin -fixed markers. Variables were trunk horizontal angle; neck-to-trunk angle; vertical range of motion (ROM) for the head, withers and sacrum; ROM for pelvic roll, pitch, and yaw; mean pelvic pitch; and ROM for hip, stifle and tarsal joints. Differences between inside and outside hind steps were determined for vertical minima and maxima of the head (HMinDiff/ HMaxDiff), withers (WMinDiff/WMaxDiff) and sacrum (PMinDiff/PMaxDiff). Subjective laterality was provided by owners. Data analysis used mixed models, first without and then with subjective laterality. Iterative k-means cluster analysis was used to associate biomechanical variables with subjective laterality. Results: PMaxDiff, PMinDiff and WMaxDiff indicated R limb asymmetry in both directions. WMinDiff indicated L (inside) fore asymmetry for L direction but was close to zero for R direction. Hip ROM was significantly smaller for the inside limb in both directions (L inside/outside: 16.7 degrees vs. 20.6 degrees; R: 17.8 degrees vs. 19.4 degrees). Stifle ROM was significantly larger for the inside limb in both directions (L: 43.1 degrees vs. 39.0 degrees; R: 41.9 degrees vs. 40.4 degrees). Taking the general direction effect into account the R hip and L stifle had larger ROM. Adding laterality to the models (seven horses L-vs. six horses R -hollow), PMaxDiff R hind asymmetry was more obvious for L-hollow horses than for R-hollow horses. L-hollow horses had greater pelvic roll ROM moving in L vs. R direction. L-hollow horses had smaller inside and greater outside hip joint ROM in L vs. R direction. R-hollow horses had a significant difference in HMinDiff between L (0 mm) and R (-14 mm) directions, indicating less head lowering at outside forelimb midstance in R direction, and larger outside tarsal ROM in R (38.6 degrees) vs. L (37.4 degrees) direction (p <= 0.05). The variables that agreed most frequently with subjective laterality in cluster analysis were pelvic roll ROM, followed by HMinDiff and PMaxDiff. Conclusion: Differences between horses walking in L and R directions were found both at group and individual levels, as well as evidence of associations with subjective laterality. Horses maintained more symmetric hip and stifle ROM and withers vertical motion when walking on the R circle. Findings suggest that left and right lateralised horses may not be perfect mirror images. Pelvic roll ROM emerged as a promising variable to determine laterality in walk as perceived by the rider, especially when considered together with other variables.


Kinematics; Laterality; Handedness; Lameness; Asymmetry

Published in

2023, Volume: 11, article number: e16373Publisher: PEERJ INC