Polo Players Edition

NOV 2011

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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flat ground, similar footing, and one speed of work in the same direction. Further, racehorses are generally started as yearlings or 2-year-olds; jockeys are of one size and use the same riding style; stabling and handling are similar most everywhere; many racehorses share bloodlines; and training regimens are commonly short and pointed. I spoke with veterinarian N. Chris regimen for most young Thoroughbreds getting ready to race. "Generally, a trainer takes about seven days with a yearling to break it in. Then, the horses are put away and started up again as 2-year-olds, and that's when they go to the track. At the track they get a couple of weeks walking around under saddle and then they go into gallop training. That's all the training they get." Dr. Narelle Stubbs, who has been studying racehorse cadavers for years says racehorse spinal issues can help us understand polo pony backs partly because a lot of polo ponies still come off the race tracks. Also, the sports share many movements such as quick speed and torsion at the pelvis. Stubbs worked for many years in England and Australia as a clinician in various equestrian disciplines including polo. Since 1998, she has been the team physical therapist for the Australian eventing, show jumping and dressage teams at the Olympics and for all disciplines at the World Equestrian Games. Stubbs attributes some of the racehorse problems to speed. "At the sports we've looked at, racing has the highest number of back injuries. ... Speed is one of the primary factors of injury as is the repeated cyclical loading at end-of-joint ranges." Though some may think horses are made for speed, Stubbs explains they aren't built for speed over long distances. "Horses in the wild don't gallop for a This diagram shows the different parts of a horse's vertebrae and the joints they are attached to. mile or more. They do little, short sprints. I have dissected horses in the USA, Hong Kong, and Australia from both the elite and low-level tracks. It didn't matter where they were from, the breeding, the ground, the age, nothing mattered. It is rare to find a racehorse off the track that does not have a problem in the vertebrae, whether it is 2 years old, 5, or a retired 15-year-old. "You do most damage at extended gaits," Spinal injuries in horses can be caused by quick stops, changes in direction and riders leaning. she says, "and especially when you flex or twist the spine at the end of each movement. That and speed are the two culprits." This type of movement can be seen in other equine athletes like eventing when a jumper twists behind making sure he clears a big jump, or when a polo pony is asked to make a quick change in direction. "A racehorse can fracture its pelvis just coming out of the starting gate because it might be pushing harder with one leg and experience torsion of the pelvis," says Clayton, a Grand Prix dressage rider who has dabbled in polo. This movement is similar to the quick starts that a polo pony must make, but more often carrying a 200- pound man. "In polo, acceleration and deceleration Newton of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky who practices often at the Derby or Olympic level. He explained the typical training Thoroughbred So, for conducting scientific studies, racehorses offer clean parameters. However, other breeds and disciplines experience similar injuries. are both potentially damaging to the spine, along with superimposed twisting that comes from the turning and leaning of the rider. Another major cause of problems is POLO PLAYERS EDITION 37 ALEX PACHECO COURTESY OF NARELLE STUBBS & HILLARY CLA YTON

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