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Blindfolding Horses: Help for Neurologic DiagnosisBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 7, 2017

Equine researchers* recently suggested that blindfolding horses can be a powerful tool for veterinarians when differentiating between lameness and neurological diseases resulting in abnormal gaits.

According to the group of European researchers, “The ataxic horse remains a challenge, especially when the clinical signs are mild to moderate. Even experienced clinicians disagree on the subjective assessment of gait and assignment of ataxia severity grades, as well as whether the gait of a horse is normal or ataxic.”

Clearly, distinguishing between a lame horse and one suffering from a neurological condition must be made in order to institute appropriate treatment strategies, and assess disease progression and response to treatments.

Based on research in human patients, walking while blindfolded exacerbates clinical neurological signs and helps localize the location of the lesion within the nervous system. To determine if blindfolding helps discriminate between lameness and ataxia in horses, the research team recruited 21 ataxic and nonataxic horses. All horses were fitted with reflective markers on the head, fetlock, hoof, fourth lumbar vertebra, point of hip, and dock of the tail. Horses were walked across a runway with and without a blindfold, and a 12-camera motion capture system was used to assess the horses’ gaits.

After analyzing the data, the study authors found that blindfolding caused a measurable exacerbation of gait abnormalities in ataxic horses.

They wrote, “If implemented into current motion capture or inertial sensor systems for routine gait analysis outside the gait laboratory, this could have a significant impact on the objective assessment of ataxia in horses and knowledge of disease progression change over time and effects of treatment, as well as in the training of veterinary practitioners and students.”

“Horses ultimately diagnosed as being lame could benefit from oral joint health supplements. Products containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids, and hyaluronic acid help protect joints and other musculoskeletal tissues,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., longtime nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

These KER-formulated products help protect your horse’s musculoskeletal health. Don’t forget that using these products can also help horses prior to any trauma or damage.

  • KER•Flex, with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride;
  • Synovate HA with high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid; and
  • EO•3, a marine-derived source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA; and
  • Nano•E, liquid, natural-source vitamin E.

Australian horse owners should look for these research-proven products.

*Olsen, E., N. Fouche, H. Jordan, et al. Kinematic discrimination of ataxia in horses is facilitated by blindfolding. Equine Veterinary Journal. In press.