CHANGES IN CONFORMATION AND WALK KINEMATICS OF SUCKLING AND WEANLING WARMBLOOD FOALS
The objectives of these two studies were to characterize normal growth and resultant changes in conformation and walk kinematics of warmblood foals. The first study quantified linear and angular conformation changes of 13 warmblood foals during the first 9 mo of growth. An objective photographic method of evaluating conformation was used to obtain all data. All linear measurements increased significantly over the investigated ages and growth rates were highest in the first 2 mo of growth. Total percentage of growth during the study was greatest for neck and back length. Distal limb growth was minimal over the investigated ages. Metacarpal growth slowed earlier than many other traits. Length of the metatarsus increased minimally during the studied ages with significant growth occurring only between 23 wk and post-weaning measurements. Increasing wither heights were positively associated with increases in scapula, humerus, radius, ilium, femur, tibia and metatarsal and metacarpal lengths. Angular conformation also changed significantly during growth. Trends in angular changes were generally less clear than those for linear variables. Scapula, femur and hock angles significantly increased and humerus angle decreased with age. Utilizing a plumb line from the hock upward, the distance of the hindlimb behind the body was quantified. The distance out behind decreased significantly between 1 and 15 wk. Distance out behind was positively correlated with tibia angle at all ages. The second study quantified linear and temporal kinematics of the walk in growing foals. Nine warmblood foals from the first study were filmed as they walked over a uniform concrete surface covered in 13mm thick rubber matting. Speed was controlled through the use of a uniform handler with a metronome. Trait means at ages 3, 11, 21 wk and post-weaning were compared. Length variables were standardized to percent of total stride length. Temporal variables were standardized to percent of stride duration. Stride length and duration increased significantly with age. Step lengths, stance duration and protraction and retraction durations did not change across ages. Over-stride decreased significantly with age, potentially due to increased back length in older foals. Linear distance between diagonal hooves during stance increased with age, and was negatively correlated to the decrease in over-stride. While older foals appeared to display a more regular, 4-beat walk rhythm, timing between lateral and diagonal footfalls remained significantly different at all ages. Both conformation and kinematics changed during growth. Characterizing conformational changes due to growth can allow a better understanding of how foal conformation and gait change during growth and may predict these traits in adults, thus allowing selection of top performance prospects at a younger age.