During the last few years, technological innovations have been introduced in the equine health field. Like in other areas, these tools offer many opportunities, especially for the implementation of research projects.
We had the pleasure to discuss with Claire MACAIRE, a graduate of a master’s in biomechanics and bioengineering, who works every day with EQUISYM, a tool for quantifying locomotion, as part of her thesis.
Could you please introduce yourself?
Why did you decide to do scientific work?
During my veterinary studies and internships, I discovered that I was less interested in working in veterinary clinics. Finally, I wished to be more involved in mathematics and research. The specialties that I really enjoyed were locomotion and cardiovascular. Therefore, I naturally focused on biomechanics, which combines these two fields. From there, I decided to conduct research, to try to better understand these topics!
What is your role regarding EQUISYM?
I have always been very interested in lameness research. It was exactly my area of interest, and therefore working with EQUISYM was a great opportunity for me. Today I am working on my thesis for the scientific validation of this tool; the goal is to compare the results of EQUISYM with veterinarian diagnoses.
1. Locomotion quantification tools in research projects
What are your thoughts on the integration of locomotion quantification systems into veterinarian education and clinics?
In terms of training, I have no doubts about the advantages of using this type of tool. It is an excellent method for better understanding and analyzing the horse’s lameness. As the horse’s different steps of locomotion occur in a very fast way, it makes lameness really complex to describe, visualize and interpret. During veterinary training, it is not easy to see in practice what we learn in theory. Finally, the tools for quantifying locomotion make lameness much more visual.
Furthermore, it is an excellent self-learning tool for a young veterinarian who may not have the experience to recognize all types of lameness (especially thin and complex). These tools will allow keeping learning to visualize and interpret lameness, to understand what is really happening – where is it located? – in short: to make the link between what is there and what to see.
Regarding the second aspect – the integration of these systems in clinics – the same benefits can be mentioned. For example, EQUISYM, which is easy to use, will allow young veterinarians or new veterinarians joining a clinic to train themselves. This is true for both large clinics that want to go all the way, and for smaller clinics that are not specialized in this field and may not have the same experience in lameness diagnosis. These tools will support the veterinarian’s analysis, confirm his diagnosis in case of doubts, and allow for contribution and renewal of knowledge/skills.
In your opinion, what is the place of such tools in clinical research? What opportunities do these technologies provide?
For me, these systems have a very key role to play, since they will allow us to standardize the information. We will then be able to know the exact asymmetry of the horse in the studies, and thus compare different studies between them, in order to go further in their interpretation. Until very recently, the implementation of studies was more complex, because starting from a subjective analysis of the asymmetry, it was necessary to involve many experts to make the findings more accurate.
These tools bring a real measure of standardization, allowing to follow the evolution of clinical studies, the improvement or not of sports horses locomotion with training, while having exactly the same thresholds for each practitioner, researcher, horse,…
How do you include EQUISYM in your daily routine?
When the EQUISYM project was launched, a dedicated staff member for data collection was installing the system during all locomotor examinations at the CIRALE. This enabled me to have a very good database from the beginning of my work. I now interpret all this data and analyze the correlations between the veterinarians’ reports and the EQUISYM results.
Other people collect data on a large number of working horses, which are therefore considered more or less “sound,” allowing us to work on future product improvements. We don’t have a veterinary report in these cases, but thanks to the functionality of synchronizing the video with the data, we can get a veterinary opinion based on the video replay.
The long-term goal is to have veterinarians use it on a daily basis so that we can collect more data and broaden our knowledge base.
For you, what is the real value of EQUISYM?
The synchronized reading of the curves with the video allows a real overview of the case. To date, this functionality, which does not exist in any other system, offers advantages for both research and field interpretation: it allows for intelligent replay, reinforces the diagnosis, and deconstructs the horse’s gait, all of which is possible even retroactively…
Do you have any special anecdotes or experiences with EQUISYM?
I saw a quite interesting case: the locomotor examination of a horse who had been presented for forelimb lameness. In fact, it was a hindlimb lameness, thin and complex, and therefore not very obvious. However, the EQUISYM system revealed significant asymmetry on the hindlimb, allowing the veterinarians to investigate further and discover many lesions.
2. The future of equine research
What is your opinion on the future of equine research and training?
I hope that these tools will assist us in identifying links with specific lesions, always with the goal of assisting and orienting veterinarians in the field’s diagnosis. The veterinary work is extremely complex, especially due to the many subfields to know, and elements to analyze and investigate to establish a diagnosis. Thanks to these technologies, the research carried out by the clinics and the specialized centers in locomotion can bring essential elements to the field veterinarians! They will be able to detect more easily the concerned area as they sometimes have several tens of locomotion cases per month.
These tools will also allow for the measurement of treatment efficacy, the study of the horse’s evolution through longitudinal monitoring (which will necessitate a more thorough follow-up), and the analysis of the factors that contribute to the development of lameness.
What do you think are the main challenges for data collection in equine research?
Several major challenges remain to optimize equine research results, mainly concerning large-scale data collection and its anonymization. Clearly, integrating new technologies into the equine health world is a challenge in and of itself! There is a lot of work to be done on the interpretation of the data, going even further in the research, to provide the veterinarians with the necessary support to understand the different biomechanical phenomena. Our goal is to provide scientific information on the different applications of these tools and to convince veterinarians and students of the value of these technologies. These two challenges are intertwined because incorporating these systems into the equine veterinarians’ routine will allow enlarging the databases.
It is a process to standardize the use of these tools. I have several examples in mind that permit a rapid comparison. In particular, the case of gaseous anesthesia involves fewer risks for small animals than certain cocktails of injectable products, but which are more complex to set up because they are new. However, this type of anesthesia is practiced more and more today, and it is a tool that has proven itself!
Keywords: research projects, equine researchers, equine veterinarians, locomotion quantification, equine locomotion, clinical research, veterinary education