Undergraduate Research Study Shows More Turnout Time Means Less Time Off

A group of Centenary University students have recently completed a study showing that increased turnout time may lead to a reduction in soft tissue injuries. The research project, led by undergraduate Abigail Reilly and associate professor Dr. Jesslyn Bryk-Lucy, examined six years of data collected from the horses used in the school’s riding program. They discovered that the horses turned out for at least 12 hours a day had a 25 percent lower incidence of soft tissue injuries. 

Injuries to tendons and ligaments often require time off from training, resulting in lost riding and competition time. Factors contributing to soft tissue injury include fitness level and an increase in acute workload.

Tendons adapt and change in response to equine movement, Reilly said. She hypothesized that horses that are allowed pasture time move more, promoting development of collagen fibers, which give tendon elasticity. Turnout time also increases fitness levels.

Reilly used the school’s horses, which are not elite athletes, to investigate if horses that are turned out regularly have a higher baseline fitness level and are therefore less prone to injury. She used the medical history of 146 horses donated to the Centenary University Equestrian Center between 2014 and 2020 to determine the date of the initial injury, which was confirmed by the resident vet using ultrasounds, MRI or the process of elimination in exams. 

Reilly then compared the data of horses that received more than 12 consecutive hours of turnout to those that didn’t get at least 12 hours of time on pasture. Injuries were only included if the horse was in an established herd on a set schedule for more than 30 days. Twelve hours of turnout was chosen as it has been shown to be the amount of time required for a physiological change in response to exercise to occur.

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Reilly found that 51 percent of horses who received less than 12 hours of turnout sustained a soft tissue injury (45 of 89 animals), while only 25 percent of horses that got more than 12 hours of turnout sustained soft tissue injuries (14 of 57).

The results suggest that the more turnout time non-elite horses receive, the less likely they are to sustain a soft tissue injury. The findings support the idea that a horse on multiple hours of turnout maintains a baseline level of fitness that better prepares them for heavier workloads. 

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