ICEEP midterm meeting 14-15 october 2016

ICEEP Midterm meeting 2016

I attended the ICEEP (International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology) midterm meeting in Utrecht this weekend.

Because the lectures were very interesting, a recap of both days:

Day 1:

Prof Catherine McGowan gave a presentation of neuromotor control and muscular action. After a short introduction on the physiology of the horse she talked about training the horse and what you should (first) focus on. There are a lot of horses with back problems. Often, when these horses are sound again, they tend to go back to full training. However, it is very important to start with training the core. For example the multifidus needs training to get better again. If you don’t train it, the back will remain the ‘weakest link’ and it’s only a matter of time before it starts being painful again. These and other core muscles will make sure a joint is kept in the ‘neutral zone’ with all kinds of movement from the horse. When these muscles don’t work properly it’s very difficult to keep the joint in the ‘neutral zone’. This leads to bigger movements in the joints and can ultimately lead to deterioration of the joint. To be able to control these muscles and movements we need good motor control. That’s also what Heli Hyytiäinen talked about. When we train we tend to focus on only a small part of the training. So when we want to practise jumping we put a jump in the middle of the arena and jump it a number of times. However, to correctly train our motor control, we need to have variety in our training programme. So put up multiple jumps, cavaletti, a couple of dressage exercises. But also change external parameters, such as screaming spectators or for example umbrellas around the arena. This keeps the horse sharp and he doesn’t know what to expect next. Have you ever had a horse that knows exactly what he has to do after a few repititions? “My boss wants me to go backwards at A and then go forward in trot, you know what, I’ll just already do it”. We don’t want this, we want a horse that is flexible. This will give you an advantage in any competition.  

I am already a huge advocate of keeping your horses outside in groups. For their physical and their mental wellbeing. Heli mentioned that you can already start training motor control at an early age. Put your foals outside in the pasture and they learn it themselves. Another reason for putting your horses out in the pasture at an early age was presented by René van Weeren. He presented some research which I had already seen before about the effect of box-rest, pasture and training on the cartilage and tendons of a horse. Mind you, cartilage never comes back after a certain age, so building it up when we are young is very important. The conclusion of 2 articles was that in the first 5-6 months of a foals life its cartilage and tendons are much better than foals that were on box-rest. They then did a similar training with all foals, but the ones with box-rest did not get to the same level as the rest.

This is actually a nice step to the next lectures which were about nutrition an nutraceuticals by Anna Jansson and Ken McKeever. The first of the two was about feeding strategies. We tend to give our horses a lot of concentrates, while they are first and foremost grass-eaters. Anna talked about a research done with standard bred horses in Sweden where the horses were given hay instead of concentrate. The research started in 2010 with 16 yearlings. They got a forage-only diet and were trained at the Swedish National Trotting school. As 2 and 3 year-olds they performed at the same level and better than horses with a conventional diet. Furthermore, at 2.5 years of age: Based on known figures it was expected that 3-4 horses would get colic (based on the number of colic cases that vets have to report in Sweden), none of them got it. It was expected that 2-3 cases would get rhabdomyolysis, none of them got it and it was expected that 1 would show stereotypical behaviour… none of them showed it. Therefore: it might be worthwhile to look into your feeding strategy and think if all the concentrate is really needed…

Neutraceuticals are booming business, but Ken showed us that most of the companies behind them did not conduct good research. Always ask a company about the research that was done and look at it critically!

Day 2:

Day two started with a lot of information on the physiology and biochemistry of exercise. So we were bombarded with abbreviations and calculations (I thought I was back in school!). A very good way to revise the things we already (should) know. The focus was on the respiratory system. The conclusion of a number of presentations that were given by Samantha Franklin, Emmanuelle van Erck and Erica McKenzie was that the respiratory system of the horse cannot be trained to get any bigger or better. What does change with training is the cardiovascular system.

Heli had another talk about training. I’m a fan! This time about training the Biceps Femoris and the Multifidus. Two completely different muscles and therefore completely different trainingregimes. The focus here, building a bit on the day before, motor control and specific training. Think about what is wrong with the horse and break it up into steps. Then think about what you should do to help the horse to make each step, or the step that he has problems with, better. And then: train!

Stefan Cokelaere gave a presentation on the problems and causes of a number of muscle related injuries in horses and what he does and what we can do to treat this. A very important message throughout his presentation was: working together with different disciplines.


Both days also had interesting workshops.  A TENS workshop given by Heli on pain management. I’m definitely going to check that out! A workshop on EMG, a workshop on heartrate monitors. Which were both really interesting. And last but not least a workshop on measuring the performance of your horse and IMUs. This was interesting as we saw the gaitsmart system a few weeks back.

So that were two very interesting days. I will definitely post some more information on some of the topics.

Only minus of the meeting… they misspelled my name on the certificate…