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An Interview with Dr. Karyn Malinowski Rutgers University, NJ
Finding the time in a day to accomplish everything you'd like to can rarely be done in these busy times. In the equestrian training field finding the time in a single day to properly exercise each individual equine athlete can be impossible without sending labor costs through the roof. For many years it was the horse that suffered as a result of a stable's time management issues. Simply not exercising horses on a daily basis is a lot less inexpensive than paying ranch hands and trainers to jog them daily and soon became the norm for many stables in North America.
"We don't ride our horses enough," said Dr. Karyn Malinowski, head of equine research at Rutgers University.
Malinowski is leading the first study to date at Rutgers University on long-term horse exercise and conditioning and her preliminary findings are pointing to regular aerobic exercise as the key to a stronger equine athlete.
"It's not just for race horses, regular aerobic exercise," said Malinowski. "Some degree of aerobic fitness is needed for all horses to perform to their genetic potential."
Malinowski has already seen the benefits of regular aerobic exercise at the early stages of her study. She has already observed older horses to be gaining muscle tone and stamina and are keeping up with horses ten years younger due to their regular exercise routine.
"By the time a horse is between 15 and 20 years-old their ability to perform aerobically is in need of enhancement," said Malinowski. "Through regular exercise I'm seeing the 15 year-olds running with the 5-year olds."
Another positive side-effect Malinowski has discovered during the research is the ability to condition a horse through regular exercise. Conditioning will occur when a handler safely raises the intensity level of exercise a horse gets in a day. Similar to humans, muscle tone can be built up in horses from progressive exercises and their overall physical potential can be maximized in competition.
"Horses that we show aren't fit," says Malinowski. "The horses that have a higher aerobic fitness level do their jobs better."
The benefits of regular exercise for an equine athlete are great but still require a lot of commitment and labor on the part of the trainer. A horse needs approximately an hour of exercise each day, and with a large stable on a limited training budget it, may not be feasible to exercise horses all day long. To combat the problem of time management, Malinowski and her helpers have been using the Equi-Ciser, a free-run horse exerciser, to conduct their research since January 2001.
"There is no way I could jog 18 horses a day," said Malinowski. "But with the Equi-Ciser, we are able to jog all our horses in a day."
One person can monitor up to six horses on the Equi-Ciser being used at Rutgers University and labor costs, in turn, are greatly reduced. Conditioning a horse becomes easily achievable through adjustable speed settings.
"You can use the Equi-Ciser to observe your horses while they run," says Malinowski. "Too often people jog their horses and don't get to see how they're running."
Through the use of heart monitors Malinowski has been able to observe a definite rise in horse conditioning directly related to the use of the Equi-Ciser.
"The heart monitors are showing me that these horses are getting much more fit after prolonged exposure to the Equi-Ciser," said Malinowski.
In her early findings Malinowski has seen the attitudes of the horses change. Malinowski's observations also showed an increase in the overall happiness of the horses being used in the project.
"Being a horsemen you can just see the difference in the attitude of the horses after they have been exercising regularly," said Malinowski.
Malinowski's research sees her using many different breeds as well as many different age groups of horses. She sees no disadvantage of long-term conditioning with any of the particular breeds or age groups, but has observed that certain sport industries could benefit from conditioning more than others.
"The industry, regardless of breed or sport will see the benefits of using the Equi-Ciser. But I could see the Thoroughbred industry doing very well with incorporating regular aerobic exercise," said Malinowski.
One problem many equine sport industries face is animal deterioration. Joints and tendons deteriorate with time on any horse or human. Highly active equine athletes deteriorate at a greater rate than pleasure horses. Malinowski is finding that with controlled aerobic exercise a horse can slow down the deterioration process significantly.
"It's just like us humans, we need to exercise and eat better as we get older to maintain our health," says Malinowski. "It is the same thing with equestrian athletes. They need regular exercise to slow down aging related deterioration."
Free run horse exercisers, such as the Equi-Ciser will soon become widespread amongst the equine industry Malinowski predicts. Current trends in training seem to be pointing towards the acceptance of exerciser machines.
"As the industry begins to measure body-fat on their horses, they'll soon accept this type of machine and training," says Malinowksi, "because the better muscle tone a horse has the better it will perform."
The Equi-Ciser, like that is being used at Rutgers University, is what is needed to safely condition equine athletes. Treadmills and walkers don't compare in training advantages that the Equi-Ciser offers.
"We actually burned out a treadmill trying to use it as an exerciser," said Malinowski. "Treadmills just don't compare to our Equi-Ciser."
Malinowski is still in the process of conducting her study on long-term conditioning and continues to use her Equi-Ciser everyday to conduct research. Although her initial conclusions related to horse exercisers and aerobic fitness are more than noteworthy, she hopes her completed study will be groundbreaking.
"Ultimately I want to make a better equine athlete," said Malinowski.